Indian Tribes To File Tobacco Lawsuit

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Reuters) June 15, 1999 - Thirty-four U.S. Indian tribes will file suit Tuesday seeking millions of dollars from tobacco companies for smoking-related medical costs, attorneys said.

In a statement Monday, tobacco litigation lawyers Ron Motley and Turner Branch said the lawsuit will charge that cigarette makers manipulated nicotine levels in their products to deliberately create tobacco addiction and ``targeted Native American teen-agers through advertising campaigns.''

The suit, to be filed in New Mexico district court in Santa Fe, does not specify the amount of damages sought, but the statement said smoking-related health costs for Indians total at least $200 million a year.

Earlier this month, a separate Indian group filed a federal suit in San Francisco seeking $1 billion of the $206 billion settlement reached earlier between 46 states and cigarette makers. That group, the Native American Council for Tobacco Litigation, said Indians' civil rights had been violated because they were excluded from the settlement.

But Emilee Truelove, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico attorneys, said this latest suit was an attempt by Indians to collect their own damages from tobacco firms, not a share of a larger pie.

It specifically requests restitution from the tobacco industry for Indians who received treatment through Indian Health Services, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and at hospitals run by the Indian tribes.

The 34 plaintiffs include tribes, or nations, from the Sioux, Pueblo, Choctaw, Pawnee, Chippewa, Chickasaw and Seminole Indians. Truelove said other groups were considering whether to join.

``This action will definitely grow,'' she said.

The lawsuit does not request certification as a class action because it will include only those tribes who vote to take part, Truelove said.

Named defendants include American Tobacco Company Inc., American Brands Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., BAT Industries P.L.C., Philip Morris Inc., Liggett Group Inc., Lorillard Tobacco Company Inc., Santa Fe National Tobacco Company Inc., United States Tobacco Co., UST Inc., Hill & Knowlton Inc., The Council for Tobacco Research USA Inc., and the Tobacco Institute Inc.


Philip Morris, Others to Be Sued by 34 Indian Tribes

Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 14, 1999 (Bloomberg) -- Philip Morris Cos. and six other tobacco companies will be sued this week by 34 American Indian tribes that claim the industry has targeted their teenagers through advertising campaigns, lawyers for the tribes said.

The complaint against Philip Morris, RJR Nabisco Holdings Corp.'s U.S. tobacco unit, British American Tobacco Plc's Brown & Williamson affiliate, Loews Corp.'s Lorillard tobacco unit; Brooke Group Ltd.'s Liggett subsidiary; UST Inc.'s United States Tobacco Co.; and the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co. is expected to be filed tomorrow afternoon in state court in Santa Fe, New Mexico, according to Albuquerque's Branch Law Firm, which is filing the lawsuit.

The anticipated court action comes less than two weeks after 20 American Indian tribes filed suit claiming they've wrongly been excluded from the industry's $206 billion settlement with 46 U.S. states. ``Tribes have also spent a lot of money on smoking-related illnesses, so we want to be recouped for that just like the states,'' said Emilee Truelove, a spokeswoman for the Branch Law Firm. ``It's just another entity that should be reimbursed.''

The latest suit seeks an end to advertising targeted at children on Indian reservations, as well as restitution for the cost of treating Indians for smoking-related illnesses at tribal- run hospitals.

Philip Morris, RJR Nabisco, Liggett and privately held Santa Fe Natural Tobacco declined to comment on the suit, saying they haven't seen it. Brown & Williamson spokesman Joe Helewicz also declined to comment directly on the suit, though he said his employer didn't market to children. ``We market our products across all demographic lines, but only to adult consumers,'' Helewicz said.

Loews and UST couldn't immediately be reached.

The tribes' suit accuses the industry of deliberately causing the smoking addiction of millions of people of all ages, and of targeting American Indian teenagers through ads. One such advertisement is a Philip Morris Marlboro ad that features cartoon character Joe Camel in an Indian headdress with eagle feathers, Truelove said.