US tobacco firm `targeted children'

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The Independent Online
A new storm was breaking around the American tobacco industry yesterday following the release of internal documents from RJ Reynolds apparently showing how the company courted young teenagers to boost cigarette sales.

The papers, spanning 1973 to 1990, appear to contradict testimony given to the United States Congress by RJR executives three years ago in which they said under-18-year-olds had never been targeted. They could face perjury charges.

"If you are looking for a smoking gun regarding youth smoking, you need look no further," commented David Kessler, former head of the US Food and Drug Administration.

Reacting to the papers, the White House asked Congress to move quickly to pass legislation authorising a litigation settlement struck by the tobacco companies and US states last year. "The President finds the release of the documents in the tobacco case to be one more cause for urgency," it said.

Under the settlement, the tobacco companies would pay out $368bn (pounds 231bn) over 25 years and pledge to take action to reduce smoking levels among young people. In return, they would receive partial immunity from future suits.

The documents were released by Henry Waxman, a California congressman who has led the crusade against tobacco. "They targeted kids as young as 14," Mr Waxman said, adding that he would be pushing for perjury charges.

RJR has said the documents have been "cherry picked" and taken out of context. It added that one mention of 14-year-olds was a typographical error and should have read 18-year-olds.