Washington, DC - More than 11 years after a federal court first ordered them to do so, the major U.S. tobacco companies must begin publishing “corrective statement” advertisements next month telling the American people the truth about their deadly and addictive products, if the court accepts an agreement filed by the parties late Monday. Facing a court deadline, the U.S. Department of Justice, the tobacco companies and our six public health organizations filed the agreement setting forth details for implementing the television and newspaper advertisements ordered by the court. Details are still being finalized for implementing the corrective statements on the tobacco companies’ websites and on cigarette packs, which the court also ordered.
The corrective statements stem from a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department in 1999 and a landmark judgment issued in August 2006 by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, who found the tobacco companies had violated civil racketeering laws and defrauded the American people by lying for decades about the health effects of smoking and their marketing to children. It is important to note that the tobacco companies are not making these corrective statements voluntarily or as part of a legal settlement. The court ordered them to take this action.
This case and the corrective statements are a timely and necessary reminder that tobacco’s horrific toll is no accident. It stems directly from the tobacco industry’s deceptive and even illegal practices. As tobacco companies now seek to portray themselves as responsible corporate citizens working to curb smoking, this case reflects that they are the root cause of the problem.
The tobacco companies have sought for more than 11 years to weaken and delay the corrective statements ordered by Judge Kessler. They even fought to remove the phrase “here is the truth” from the corrective statements. While the corrective statements are an important step in telling the American people the truth about cigarettes, the amount the tobacco companies must pay to place them is miniscule compared to the billions they continue to spend to market their deadly products.
In her 1,683-page opinion, Judge Kessler detailed how the tobacco companies “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.” Importantly, Judge Kessler concluded, “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 regarding 1) the adverse health effects of smoking; 2) the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine; 3) 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); 4) the manipulation of cigarette design and composition to ensure optimum nicotine delivery; and 5) the adverse health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke (view the text of the corrective statements).
Tobacco company defendants in the case include Altria, its Philip Morris USA subsidiary and R.J. Reynolds. Under the agreement filed Monday, tobacco companies would begin publishing the first phase of corrective statements in newspapers on November 26 and on television the following week.
Despite significant progress in reducing smoking, tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, killing more than 480,000 Americans and costing the nation about $170 billion in health care expenses each year.
Tobacco companies bear direct responsibility for their products’ ongoing toll on the health of Americans. As Judge Kessler found, “[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 many of 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.”
Our six public health organizations – the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, National African American Tobacco Prevention Network and the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund (a 501c4 affiliate of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids) – joined the case as intervenors in 2005.
The public health intervenors are represented by the Washington, D.C., public interest law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks.