Tobacco companies finally own up to cigarette smoking risks

It has been a decade since federal courts have found tobacco companies to be deceiving the general public by hiding the exact level of risk associated with cigarette smoking. Now finally the tobacco companies have agreed to own up the risks and air a set of advertisements on television and newspapers to correct the statements they have been making until now.

Image Credit: MeskPhotography / Shutterstock
Image Credit: MeskPhotography / Shutterstock

These “corrective statements” have already been started and placed in the newspapers since yesterday 26th of November 2017 as part of the new campaigns. There was a judgement in 2006 where the tobacco companies were held responsible for hiding the actual cancer causing potential of the tobacco containing products. The companies like RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris were sentenced on several grounds including marketing cigarettes to underage youths and children, lying about how cigarettes cause harm to health by withholding important information, breaking anti-racketeering laws. For the last one decade the tobacco companies have fought against the judgement over nitty-gritties of the statements made by the court and refused to “come out clean” so to speak. They delayed the issuance of these corrective statements for all these years.

Even now their adverts are to be published only in the print and television media and not on the online media sources. Statistics show that one fourth of all Americans get their news and other information from the online media where these corrective statements would not be present. When this judgement was passed in 2006, social media was not like it is today – a source of information for millions of people. Thus the judgement does not contain any information regarding spread of this message over online media and social media. According to experts in the field, the tobacco companies did not have any science or evidence to support their side of the argument and all they could do was delay the information from reaching wider masses and agreeing that they are selling something which is harmful to the general public.

US district Judge Gladys Kessler was the first to say in 2006 in her judgement that ran for 1,683 pages 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”. The tobacco manufacturers appealed against trivial issues in the judgement including font size, phrases, statements etc. in order to delay the remedial steps. It is known that 480,000 Americans are killed annually from tobacco-related diseases including lung cancer. The statistics show that lung cancer kills more people than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia have in their judgements said that these tobacco companies have, “lied, misrepresented, and deceived the American public,” regarding the ill effects of tobacco smoking and also not disclosed about the addictiveness of their products and marketed their products to the youth. Six health organizations were part of this case against the tobacco giants in 2005 including The American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, National African American Tobacco Prevention Network and the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund.

In many countries the cigarette packs are mandated to carry graphic warnings to deter customers and warn them against the potential outcomes of tobacco use. In the US however, due to delays and appeals on the part of the tobacco companies and the US Food and Drug Administration, there is still no place for these graphic warnings on the packs of cigarettes.

Now finally from this week on, the full page company ads would run in over 50 newspapers across the country and on all major broadcasting networks such as ABC, CBS and NBC. The newspaper ads have to be full page every Sunday and a total of over 260 ad slots have to be run on television for over one year. Numbers reveal that tobacco companies use $1m per hour in America or $8.2bn yearly in advertising and marketing their products. Their adverts appear at stores, on coupons and discounts and at adult entertainment venues. These new set of warning adverts would add to those costs.

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