U.S. Tobacco Companies must run court-ordered ads telling the truth

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TOBACCO COMPANY DEFENDANTS, Altria, its Philip Morris USA subsidiary and R.J. Reynolds, swearing oath during one of the U.S. Department of Justice hearings.

Starting this Sunday, Nov. 26, the major U.S. tobacco companies must run court-ordered newspaper and television advertisements that tell the American public the truth about the deadly consequences of smoking and secondhand smoke, as well as the companies’ intentional design of cigarettes to make them more addictive.

These ads – called “corrective statements” – are the result of a long-running lawsuit the U.S. Department of Justice filed against the tobacco companies in 1999. A federal court in 2006 ordered the tobacco companies to make these corrective statements after issuing a landmark verdict that they had violated civil racketeering laws (RICO) and engaged in a decades-long conspiracy to deceive the American public about the health effects of smoking and how they marketed to kids.

The ads will finally start to run after 11 years of appeals by the tobacco companies aimed at delaying and weakening them. Starting this Sunday, the ads will run in print and online in about 50 newspapers specified by the court, including the Gary Crusader (See Page 5). They will also run on the major television networks for one year during prime time. The tobacco companies must also publish the corrective statements on their websites and cigarette packs, but implementation details are still being finalized.

Background on the Case and Corrective Statements

In 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the major cigarette manufacturers, charging they had violated the civil provisions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and other laws.

On August 17, 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler issued her verdict against the major tobacco companies. In a 1,683-page final opinion, she detailed how the tobacco companies “have marketed and sold their lethal products with zeal, with deception, with a singled-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted.”

Importantly, Judge Kessler found that “there is a likelihood of present and future violations of RICO.” She added, “The evidence in this case clearly establishes that Defendants have not ceased engaging in unlawful activity.”

Judge Kessler ordered the tobacco companies to publish corrective statements on five topics about which they had deliberately deceived the public:

  • the adverse health effects of smoking;
  • the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine;
  • the lack of significant health benefit from smoking “low tar,” “light,” “ultra light,” “mild” and “natural” cigarettes (products that have been deceptively marketed as less harmful than regular cigarettes);
  • the manipulation of cigarette design and composition to ensure optimum nicotine delivery; and
  • the adverse health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke.

This case and the corrective statements serve as reminders both that tobacco use remains an enormous public health problem – it is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the U.S. – and that the problem is caused directly by the tobacco industry’s deceptive and even illegal practices. Policy makers must stand up to the tobacco industry and take strong action to reduce tobacco use and save lives – corrective action to match the corrective statements.

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