Court Decision Forces Tobacco Companies to Admit the Dangers Associated With Smoking

CUREWinter 2018
Volume 17
Issue 1

New warnings ads are required to explain the dangers of smoking.

MAYBE YOU’VE SEEN THEM — print and TV ads paid for by cigarette makers, explaining the dangers associated with tobacco.

Following a 17-year legal battle, the three major companies that sell tobacco in the U.S. are being required to place the ads, which explain the sometimes deadly harms these products can cause to users and those around them — including a host of cancer types — and clear up the misconception that smoking “light” cigarettes is safer than smoking regular ones. Gladys Kessler, the federal judge who issued the ruling, indicated that, since the 1950s, the companies have denied and suppressed the scientific evidence communicated in the ads in order to maintain profits and attract new customers, including young people.

The court decision was reported recently in Cancer Currents, a blog of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which funded some of the research cited in the case. Many NCI researchers also testified.

The first statement was issued in major newspapers on Nov. 26, 2017, by the three companies: Altria and its subsidiary, Philip Morris USA; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco; and Lorillard, whose brands are now sold by R.J. Reynolds and ITG Brands. The print statements will appear as full-page ads in at least 50 U.S. newspapers from November to late March, and the same information will be conveyed in 30- and 45-second prime-time spots aired weekly for a year on major TV networks, the court ruled.

Five statements will be issued, each on a different topic related to the dangers of tobacco use, according to the NCI. The tobacco companies will clarify information regarding the health harms caused by cigarette smoking; the addictiveness of cigarette smoking and nicotine; the misconception that it’s safer to smoke so-called light or low-tar cigarettes than regular ones; their manipulation of cigarette design to enhance the delivery of nicotine to users, thus increasing addictiveness; and the sometimes fatal health risks of exposure to secondhand smoke.

The ruling that ordered the companies to issue the statements arose from a federal racketeering lawsuit against them, filed in 1999 by the Department of Justice. The tobacco companies “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,” wrote Kessler, a senior judge of the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.