Big Tobacco Hears from Young and Old

Senior group's lawsuit seeks billions for Medicare

Published in CSP Daily News

WASHINGTON, D.C.-- Big Tobacco companies got an earful from a senior groupin the form of a lawsuitand a group of teenagersin the form of a protestthis past weekend.

On Friday, Aug. 5, the United Seniors Association Inc. announced it has filed a lawsuit against the major American tobacco companies in the U.S. District Court in Boston seeking recovery of damages on behalf of the Medicare program and the Treasury of the United States.

The civil suit was filed on Aug. 4. It alleges tobacco companies intentionally concealed, [image-nocss] denied and manipulated the addictive properties of their cigarettes. United Seniors seeks to have the firms reimburse Medicare for payments it has made since 1999 to treat diseases caused by cigarette smoking.

The defendants are Philip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., individually and as successors to The American Tobacco Co., Lorillard Tobacco Co. Inc. and Liggett Group Inc.

As a conservative and advocate of taxpayers' rights, it outrages me that private companies would hope to stick taxpayers with the costs of their misconduct, said Charlie Jarvis, chairman and chief executive of United Seniors, a conservative nonprofit group advocating free-market solutions and defending taxpayers' rights. Tobacco companies intentionally harmed their own customers by exposing them without their consent to the highly addictive properties of nicotine. Now, thousands of smokers are aging, gravely ill and being cared for at taxpayers' expense by the financially hard -pressed Medicare program.

Jarvis said the lawsuit team conservatively estimates Medicare has spent an average of $10 billion per year over the past six years to treat beneficiaries suffering from tobacco-caused diseases. In 1998, tobacco companies settled civil lawsuits brought by state governments on behalf of Medicaid for $246 billion.

Meanwhile, 150 Oklahoma youth were expected to take part in the "Spit Out Big Tobacco" protest this past Saturday downtown Oklahoma City, according to a report in The Edmund (Okla.) Sun.

The mobile protest included teenagers driving cars with anti-tobacco information on the windows and handing out information to passers-by. Demonstrations also included teens walking behind a hearse while carrying picket signs.

The annual protest organized by Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) was dedicated to the memory of Sean Marsee, who died at age 19 from cancer that started on his tongue. At age 12, Marsee started using smokeless tobacco.

SWAT is a movement that seeks to empower and unite youth to resist tobacco advertising and change current attitudes about tobacco. SWAT is particularly strong in Oklahoma, where members have staged sit-ins in rural areas, said Jennifer Wilson, state SWAT coordinator.