Eleven years after a federal court found tobacco companies conspired to deceive the American public, the companies will air television and newspapers ads to correct lies they told over the course of the 20th century.
The “corrective statements” to be aired beginning 26 November are part of a 2006 judgment against tobacco companies, which found companies such as RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris broke anti-racketeering laws, lied about how cigarettes harmed health and denied their efforts to market cigarettes to children.
After the judgment, tobacco companies appealed over details of the statements for more than a decade, and delayed correcting false statements into a new media era.
Four in 10 Americans now regularly get news online, where tobacco companies will not have to publish any corrective statements.
“The tobacco companies’ basic strategy for everything, whether it’s science or regulation or litigation, is delay,” said Stan Glantz, an expert on tobacco company strategy at the University of California San Francisco. The school is also home to one of the world’s largest libraries of tobacco company documents, a cache collected from lawsuits like the one decided in federal court in 2006.
“They have used a lot of arguing about what in terms of the real world are trivial issues, to delay having to make these statements for 11 years – but it is what the tobacco companies do,” said Glantz.
“The problem is the technology has moved on, and the statements are not in social media because it didn’t really exist back then. But better late than never.”
Tobacco companies were first ordered to make the statements by US district judge Gladys Kessler, who wrote in a 1,683-page opinion in 2006 that the companies caused, “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”.
About 480,000 Americans still die each year from tobacco-related disease, and lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both American men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than die of breast, colon and prostate cancer combined.
In appealing against publication of corrective statements, tobacco companies argued against specific words in statements, fonts and even the phrase “here is the truth”.
The ads will run in more than 50 newspapers across the country and on major broadcasting networks, including ABC, CBS and NBC. Companies will have to buy full-page ads in the first section of each Sunday newspaper, and a total of 260 television ads will be run for one year.
To promote their products, tobacco companies still spend roughly $1m per hour in America, or $8.2bn per year, on advertisements in convenience stores, discounts, coupons, at adult entertainment venues and through wholesalers.
Additionally, unlike in much of Europe, American cigarettes do not display graphic warnings on packs following appeals by tobacco companies and delays from the US Food and Drug Administration.