On November 26, cigarette manufacturers will place ads in over three dozen newspapers and broadcast primetime television ads on all of the major networks. Millions of Americans will be told the truth about the harmful effects of tobacco products, and, for the first time ever, this information will be paid for by tobacco companies themselves. These court-ordered “corrective statements” announce what the industry actually knew about nicotine addiction and tobacco-caused disease for many years, despite its public denials.
The statements, being disseminated as a result of a 2006 federal court ruling that the major cigarette manufacturers violated racketeering laws, will convey the harms of smoking and secondhand smoke, the nature of nicotine addiction, the industry’s manipulation of nicotine delivery, and the harmfulness of “light” cigarettes. They will not reveal the cigarette companies’ history of deceptive acts to hide these and other truths.
The publication of these statements follows 11 years of unnecessary delays, as tobacco company lawyers fought tooth and nail to water down the corrective statements and delay their implementation. One result of the relentless maneuvering of these lawyers is that no statements will appear explaining the industry’s deliberate efforts to market cigarettes to kids or its widespread campaign of information suppression. The 2006 ruling in this case documented thousands of pages of internal industry documents revealing such misdeeds. To make the court’s 1,700 page opinion more accessible and useful to the public, we’ve collected the most compelling findings about the tobacco industry’s deceptive acts in our popular publication: The Verdict Is In. Our website contains many additional resources related to the litigation.
Now that the appearance of the corrective statements is imminent, the work of the industry’s public relations staff has begun. Cigarette manufacturers are already attempting to portray this action as driven by public interest and making the improbable case that they are a different industry than 20 years ago despite the fact that it still spends billions of dollars aggressively marketing its most harmful products. . Several media outlets have already amplified the message that the tobacco industry has “reached an agreement” with the government to run the ads, giving the impression that the statements are somehow voluntary. Other reports seem to suggest that this type of spin on the statements is in line with cigarette companies’ overall strategy of appearing to take the moral high ground by putting resources into products that it claims are less harmful than cigarettes.
While the implementation of the corrective statements is a huge public health victory, this painfully long process exemplifies just how challenging tobacco control is, and demonstrates how hard we must continue to fight to eliminate the death and disease caused by tobacco products. Tobacco companies continue to oppose policies that benefit public health when those policies jeopardize their profits, spending millions of dollars lobbying and filing lawsuits. The tobacco industry does not yield any ground voluntarily. It is up to the public health community to continue to develop, support, and promote those evidence-based policies that have proven effective at reducing tobacco use and to ensure that these policies are successfully defended in court.
October 17, 2017