POSTED: November 27, 2017
A wave of new tobacco ads debuted across prime-time television and published in newspapers this weekend, but they aren’t promoting what you might expect. They are “corrective statements” that a federal court judge ordered tobacco companies in the United States to release to inform the public about the dangers of smoking. They were released beginning Friday, according to the Department of Justice. In 1999, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the country’s largest cigarette manufacturers and tobacco trade organizations, claiming civil fraud and racketeering violations over the course of more than 50 years.
“There was a decade of litigation over exactly what they say and when they’re going to run and what the font sizes are and all of that stuff,” said Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine and the Truth Initiative distinguished professor of tobacco control at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the lawsuit. “But it is meant to, to some extent, reverse 50 years of lying to the public,” he said. The ads appear as black text on white backgrounds and detail the health effects of smoking, the addictiveness of cigarettes, and the dangers of secondhand smoke and low-tar cigarettes, among other health concerns.
Tobacco companies weigh in
“This industry has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, including becoming regulated by the FDA, which we supported,” Murray Garnick, Altria’s executive vice president and general counsel, said in the statement.
“We are working to address and resolve many of the controversial issues relating to the use of tobacco. The tobacco industry today is very different than it was when this lawsuit was filed in 1999,” the statement said.
‘They will have to tell the truth, the whole truth’
The American Cancer Society — along with the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund, the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network and Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights — was involved in the case to ensure that public health interests were presented to the court.
“It brings a certain degree of closure to an era now extending to well over 50 years, during which the tobacco industry committed widespread fraud and engaged in conspiracy, as found by the court, to deceive the public and health experts and the government,” said Douglas, who is also an attorney.
“Now, they will have to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to the world,” he said. “The court ruling was also forward-looking and focused on the fact that the industry’s wrongdoing has continued with regard to the issues focused on by the corrective statements, which are designed in part to deter future wrongdoing.”
‘The only thing you should be breathing is air’
Presser was not involved in the case or the ads, but he said he sees the health impacts and addictiveness of smoking firsthand. For the many patients whom he has treated for smoking-related cancers, Presser said, he tells them “it’s not your fault” for having a cigarette addiction.
“One patient of mine who sticks out was a professional football player,” said Presser, author of the book “An Empowering Guide to Lung Cancer.”
After the procedure, the patient stopped smoking, Presser said, but then his mother died, and he returned to smoking for a short while before quitting again.
Smoking rates have been on the decline in the US, but some experts — such as Presser and UCSF’s Glantz — point to the rise of e-cigarettes as representing a new era of public health concern.