Attorney General John Ashcroft may reassign some of the lawyers working on the federal lawsuit against the tobacco industry, and many fear this is a sign that the case will not be vigorously pursued by the Bush administration’s Justice Department. The lawsuit argues that the tobacco industry has been engaged in a 45-year deceptive campaign to cover up information about the adverse health effects of smoking. As a Senator, Ashcroft opposed this litigation. Justice Department lawyers working on the suit recently informed Ashcroft that the case may not be able to proceed without a drastic increase in funding. Subsequently, Ashcroft announced that he is considering removing some lawyers from the project.
Other signs also warn tobacco control advocates that the suit could be dropped. For example, while the Bush administration’s budget sets aside funding for continued staff on the project, it does not allocate any funds for continued legal costs on the case. Feminists fear the impact a dropped tobacco suit could have on women, who are disproportionately targeted by the tobacco industry. In fact, a recent report by the U.S. Surgeon General notes that the tobacco industry has spent billions of dollars in marketing to women, and that, in 1999, 165,000 women died prematurely from smoking related diseases.