Big Tobacco Has to Tell the Truth

Imagine watching a TV advertisement that began by stating that the federal court has concluded that tobacco companies deliberately deceived the American public about the health effects of smoking.  The ad would go on to say: “Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day.” or “Defendant tobacco companies intentionally designed cigarettes to make them more addictive.”

An impossible dream?  Not if U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler’s ruling stands.

The federal judge outlined yesterday the specific corrective statements she’s given tobacco companies to use in print and broadcast advertisements she’s ordered them to pay for.

Tobacco companies had urged Kessler to reject the Justice Department’s proposed industry-financed corrective statements, calling them “forced public confessions.” But Kessler used them as the basis for some of the ones she ordered yesterday. The tobacco companies also claimed that the statements were designed to “shame and humiliate” them.  We think it’s a shame tobacco companies have been concealing the dangers of smoking for decades.

In July, a federal appeals court rejected efforts by the tobacco companies to overrule Kessler’s ruling requiring corrective statements.  Yesterday, Kessler ordered the tobacco companies and Justice Department to meet over the next few months to discuss how to implement the statements. They could be put in inserts with cigarette packs and listed on websites, TV and newspaper ads.

The NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City applauds Judge Kessler’s ruling and sees it as an important step in resolving exactly what the tobacco companies are required to say in paid advertisements. We know this won’t be the last word.  But it’s important that tobacco companies are required to state clearly that the court found that they deceived the American public and that they are only telling the truth now because the court is mandating them to do so.

In the U.S., smoking kills more people than AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, murders, suicide, drugs and fires combined.  It’s time the American public heard that sobering fact from the companies who have profited from the loss of life.  It’s not easy to tell the truth when you’re Big Tobacco, but the time is now to do so.