Philip Morris, Altria, R.J. Reynolds, Brown and Williamson, Lorillard, American Tobacco, and British American Tobacco Company have been convicted in U.S. District Court of racketeering and conducting a decades-long conspiracy to deceive the American public and target children with their deadly and addictive products. On August 17, 2006, a final judgement and opinion were issued in a major U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit that found the tobacco companies guilty under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act for fraud and conspiracy to deceive the American public and target children with their deadly and addictive products.
The court ruling stated that "(This case) is about an industry, and in particular these Defendants, that survives, and profits, from selling a highly addictive product which causes diseases that lead to a staggering number of deaths per year, an immeasurable amount of human suffering and economic loss, and a profound burden on our national health care system. Defendants have known these facts for at least 50 years or more. Despite that knowledge, they have consistently, repeatedly, and with enormous skill and sophistication, denied these facts to the public, to the Government, and to the public health community... In short, Defendants have marketed and sold their lethal products with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted." (pages 3-4 of the opinion).
The court also emphasized that the tobacco companies' wrongdoing is ongoing: "The evidence in this case clearly establishes that Defendants have not ceased engaging in unlawful activity... Their continuing conduct misleads consumers in order to maximize Defendants' revenues by recruiting new smokers (the majority of whom are under the age of 18), preventing current smokers from quitting, and thereby sustaining the industry" (pages 1603-1604 of the opinion).
On May 22, 2009, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an unanimous opinion upholding the District Court judgment. On June 28, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals in the case, thereby allowing the racketeering conviction to stand.