US Tobacco companies forced to carry anti-tobacco ads after two-decade legal battle

21 Nov 2017


After nearly 20 years of litigation, US tobacco companies are being forced to run ads highlighting information they long fought to keep from the public about the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke .

Philip Morris (now Altria), R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard were allegedly found to have committed civil fraud and to have violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. They were ordered by the court to issue corrective statements to address this fraud and prevent future harm.

The tobacco companies must begin running paid ads containing these corrective statements on 26 November 2017. The ads will run on television for a year and in newspapers until March 2018. The tobacco companies are also required to post statements on their websites and affix corrective statements to cigarette packs several times during a two-year period.

Nearly 20 years of litigation began in 1999 when the US Department of Justice filed suit against the cigarette-makers. In 2006, US District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the tobacco companies to publish corrective statements after an eight-month civil trial that revealed a conspiracy dating back to the 1950s to hide the harmful effects of smoking. In her ruling, Judge Kessler stated that the tobacco companies deceived the public, suppressed research and destroyed documents in order to protect their profits. Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court declined to hear the case, ending 11 years of appeals by the tobacco companies.

The corrective statements the tobacco companies are being forced to publicise include facts such as the following:

  • Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day.
  • More people die every year from smoking than from murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes and alcohol, combined.
  • Smoking is highly addictive. Nicotine is the addictive drug in tobacco.
  • Cigarette companies intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction.
  • All cigarettes cause cancer, lung disease, heart attacks and premature death – "lights," "low tar," "ultra lights," and "naturals." There is no safe cigarette.
  • Second-hand smoke kills over 38,000 Americans each year.
  • There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke.

A scientific, national survey by the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center in the US atate of Oklahoma in the US in May 2017 found only 23 per cent of respondents knew tobacco companies had violated civil racketeering laws, and only 32 per cent were aware that tobacco companies had committed fraud.

"Tobacco companies now seek to portray themselves as responsible corporate citizens working to curb smoking, when in fact their actions are the root cause of tobacco's horrific impact," said Janelle Waldock, vice president of community health and health equity at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and co-chair of Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation. "Make no mistake: tobacco companies are not issuing these corrective statements voluntarily, but because the court ordered them to. Big Tobacco has fought against being honest about their deadly products every step of the way. The toll tobacco takes on Minnesotans is no accident."

In the US state of Minnesota alone, tobacco companies spend more than $115 million annually on advertising and marketing, much of it targeted to young people. As a result, tobacco use remains a persistent problem. Each year, tobacco use is responsible for the deaths of 6,312 people in the state, where the annual cost of smoking is estimated to be over $7 billion - $3.19 billion in excess health care costs and $4.3 billion in lost productivity.

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