Ads show why North Dakota needs strong action to fight tobacco use
Starting Nov. 26, the major U.S. tobacco companies have to run ads regionally and nationally telling the American people the truth 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 breaking civil racketeering laws and lying to the public about the dangers of smoking and how they marketed to children. The ads will finally run after 11 years of appeals by the tobacco companies aimed at weakening and delaying the statements. They even fought (successfully) to remove the phrase “here is the truth” from the corrective statements, which would have highlighted the fact that the industry deliberately deceived the public.
Public health advocates in North Dakota welcome the corrective statement ads because they will focus attention on the enormous public health problem caused by tobacco use and the need for strong action to save lives.
“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,” said Steph Welsh at Cavalier County Health District.
In North Dakota alone, 11.7 percent of high school students still smoke, and 300 kids become regular smokers each year. Tobacco use claims 1,000 ND lives and costs the state $326 million in health care bills annually.
“The tobacco industry has long profited from deceptively promoting products that lead to disease, death and economic hardship,” said Welsh. “In North Dakota, tobacco companies spend $37.6 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 political leaders to enact 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.
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 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 Welsh. “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 statement ads will start running Nov. 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. 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.