LITTLE ROCK – On Nov. 26, the major U.S. tobacco companies started running ads in the Little Rock Sun and nationally telling the American people some of the truths about the deadly consequences of smoking and secondhand smoke.
A federal court in 2006 ordered the companies to make these “corrective statements” after finding them guilty of civil racketeering laws and lying to the public about the dangers of smoking and marketing to children. The ads will finally run after 11 years of additional appeals and litigation by the tobacco companies aimed at weakening and delaying the truth statements.
Public health advocates in Arkansas welcome the corrective statement ads because they will focus attention on the enormous economic and health problems caused by tobacco use and the need for strong action to save lives. To reduce tobacco use, advocates across the nation are calling on state and city officials to raise the sale age of tobacco products to 21, pass a comprehensive smoke-free law, and increase the state’s tobacco tax by $2.00 per pack. These efforts in other states have resulted in public health gains, including saving lives and reducing the burden of tobacco.
“These ads serve as a reminder that tobacco’s terrible toll is no accident. It is caused directly by the deceptive and even illegal practices of the tobacco industry, which have intentionally led to the addiction of some 750,000 current tobacco users and tens of thousands of Arkansas smokers who are now deceased,” said Dr. Gary Wheeler, Chief Medical Officer at the Arkansas Department of Health. “These ads emphasize how important it is for our leaders to resist the undue influence of the tobacco industry and take evidence-based action to reduce tobacco use and save lives in Arkansas.”
In Arkansas alone, 15.7 percent of high school students still smoke and 1,700 children become regular smokers each year. Tobacco use claims the lives of 5,800 Arkansans and costs the state $1.21 billion in health care bills annually. Arkansas ranks as the 2nd highest state in the nation for tobacco use as 1 in 4 adults still smoke.
“The tobacco industry has long profited from deceptively promoting products that lead to disease, death and economic hardship,” said Dr. Appathurai Balamurugan, State Chronic Disease Director at the Arkansas Department of Health. “In Arkansas, tobacco companies spend $107.3 million yearly to market cigarettes and other tobacco products to young adults. Not surprisingly, nine out of 10 tobacco users start before the age of 18. We’re hopeful these corrective statements will shine the light on the tobacco industry’s decades-long deceit and encourage the enactment of policies to help bring about the first tobacco-free generation.”
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. Tobacco company defendants in the case include Altria, its Philip Morris USA subsidiary and R.J. Reynolds.
Over 11 years ago, on Aug. 17, 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler issued her verdict against the 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 concluded, “The evidence in this case clearly establishes that Defendants have not ceased engaging in unlawful activity.”
Judge Kessler ordered the tobacco companies to tell the truth and publish corrective statements on five topics about which they had deliberately deceived the public:
* the adverse health effects of smoking;
* addictiveness of smoking and nicotine;
* 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);
* manipulation of cigarette design and composition to ensure optimum nicotine delivery; and
* adverse health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke.
“It is a step forward that Big Tobacco has been forced to issue these long-overdue corrective statements, but it’s far from enough,” said Dr. Wheeler. “The tobacco companies claim they’ve changed, but the facts show that they continue to market their deadly products to kids and they continue to fight the most effective policies to reduce smoking and other tobacco use.”
The corrective statements started running November 26 in print and online in about 50 newspapers specified by the court. They will also run during prime time on the major television networks for one year. The tobacco companies must also publish the corrective statements on their websites and cigarette packs; implementation details are still being finalized.
The corrective statement newspaper ads must run in the front section of Sunday newspapers on Nov. 26, Dec. 10, Jan. 7, Feb. 4 and March 4. In Arkansas, corrective statements will appear in the Little Rock Sun community newspaper. Corrective statements will also appear in the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, TN, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. The tobacco companies will pay the entire cost of running the ads.
Despite significant progress in reducing smoking, tobacco use is still the leading preventable cause of 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.