Tobacco Companies Ordered to Disclose Harms of Cigarettes, Other Products

Judge orders tobacco companies to inform Americans about the harmful and addictive properties of smoking.

More than a decade ago, a federal court ordered tobacco companies to publish corrective statements about their products. Next month, the companies will publish statements about how tobacco products can be harmful and addictive if the court accepts a new agreement that was filed, according to a press release from the American Heart Association (AHA).

The US Department of Justice (DOJ), tobacco companies, and 6 public health organizations—including the American Cancer Society, AHA, American Lung Association, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, and the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund—recently filed the agreement that includes details about television and newspaper advertisements with correct information about their products.

The AHA reports that details for the companies’ websites and cigarette packs are still being reviewed, according to the release.

The original lawsuit was filed by the DOJ in 1999. It wasn’t until 2006 when US District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the companies violated civil racketeering laws and defrauded Americans by misinforming them about the health effects of their products and for marketing efforts directed towards children, according to the AHA.

Notably, the tobacco companies are not issuing the statements voluntarily or because of a settlement, but were ordered to do so by the court.

The AHA said that the lawsuit and corrective statements are a necessary reminder of how the companies played a role in the cancer and disease burden faced by Americans.

Over the past 11 years, tobacco companies have fought to weaken and delay the issuance of the corrective statements, according to the release.

In Judge Kessler’s statement, she wrote that tobacco companies have sold their products with profits in mind, regardless of how it may affect the health of Americans. Judge Kessler wrote, “The evidence in this case clearly establishes that Defendants have not ceased engaging in unlawful activity.”

Tobacco companies must publish corrective statements that disclose the health effects of smoking; the addiction potential of smoking and nicotine; the lack of health benefits from “low tar,” “light,” “ultra light,” “mild” and “natural” cigarettes; the manipulation of cigarettes to deliver the most nicotine; and the adverse effects of secondhand smoke, according to the AHA.

Under the agreement, tobacco companies will release their corrective statements in newspapers in November and on television in December.

Despite successful efforts to curb smoking, tobacco use still causes hundreds of thousands of deaths per year and costs more than $170 billion in healthcare costs annually in the United States, according to the AHA.

“Defendants have known many of these facts for at least 50 years or more,” Judge Kessler wrote in her statement. “Despite that knowledge, they have consistently, repeatedly and with enormous skill and sophistication, denied these facts to the public, to the Government, and to the public health community.”

Judge Kessler believes that tobacco companies should be held responsible for their products’ ill health effects and a significant burden on Americans, the press release concluded.