Navajo Tribe Sues Tobacco Companies

By Janelle Cowgill and Bill Donovan The Arizona Republic Aug. 12, 1999

The Navajo Nation sued the tobacco industry on Wednesday, saying, among other things, that several tobacco companies deceived Navajo consumers, stifled competition and illegally targeted minors.

The amount of restitution, penalties and damages that the Nation seeks has not been determined, said Mellor C. Willie, spokesman for the Navajo Nation, but will include costs such as Medicaid payments that incurred due to the defendants' conduct, according to the release.

In a prepared statement, Attorney General Levon B. Henry said the goal is simple:

"We want the defendants to follow the law, to tell the whole truth and to repay those who have been harmed by their conduct."

The 135-page lawsuit, which is being handled by a team of law firms, says that the defendants concealed the addictive nature of tobacco, which allegedly violated the recently enacted Navajo Nation Civil Tobacco Liability Enforcement and Recovery Act.

Nationwide, tribes have been preparing lawsuits against tobacco companies which could possibly net them $1 billion in damages for related health problems.

Also, in March, Arizona was recommended for an additional $262 million from tobacco companies, which raised the state's expected share of the national settlement to more than $3 billion.

The health-care lawsuit was settled for $206 billion last November by 46 attorneys general. An additional $8 billion was allocated in early March.

Attorney Steve Mitchell said tribal law allows for the tribe to be compensated for three times the amount paid by Navajos for cigarettes purchased on the Navajo Reservation for the past 20 years.

Phillip Morris Inc. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. are among the defendants. Attorneys for Phillip Morris and Reynolds said they had not seen the lawsuit Wednesday and wouldn't comment.

[Includes information from the Associated Press.]

Navajo Nation Sues Tobacco Industry

Wednesday, August 11, 1999

PHOENIX (AP) -- Mirroring successful claims made by numerous states, the nation's largest Indian tribe sued the tobacco industry on Wednesday to recover the cost of caring for sick smokers.

A 135-page complaint filed in Navajo court alleges tobacco companies deceived Navajo Nation consumers, illegally targeted minors and burdened their healthcare system.

The claim seeks unspecified damages from eight tobacco companies, including Phillip Morris and R.J. Reynolds.

``This is about protecting our Navajo youth from a campaign targeted toward them,'' said Levon Henry, attorney general for the Navajo Nation.

Attorneys for Phillip Morris and Reynolds said they had not seen the lawsuit Wednesday and wouldn't comment.

Twice as many American Indians smoke in comparison to other groups, according to the surgeon general. The figures are worse for the Navajo.

In 1992, 29 percent of Navajo high school students said they smoked on a regular basis. The number increased to 47.5 percent in 1997, said Louis Denetsosie, a lawyer representing the Navajo Nation.