Big Tobacco Still Hiding The Truth
Ten years ago, on Aug. 17, 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler issued a landmark judgment that the major U.S. tobacco companies had violated civil racketeering laws and defrauded the American people by lying for decades about the health risks of smoking and their marketing to children.
In a 1,683-page opinion, Judge Kessler detailed like never before how the tobacco companies “have marketed and sold their lethal products with zeal, with deception, with a single-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 regarding 1) the adverse health effects of smoking; 2) the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine; 3) the false advertising of low-tar and light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes; 4) the design of cigarettes to maximize nicotine delivery and addiction; and 5) the health effects of secondhand smoke (view the latest text for the corrective statements).
Ten years later, perhaps the best evidence that the tobacco companies haven’t changed is the fact they have yet to publish these corrective statements and continue to fight the statements in court.
Despite losing numerous appeals of both Judge Kessler’s judgment and her corrective statements order, tobacco companies are still fighting to weaken and delay the corrective statements. Judge Kessler in February called the companies’ tactics “ridiculous – a waste of precious time, energy, and money for all concerned – and a loss of information for the public.”
Among their latest objections, the companies are fighting a requirement that the corrective statements include the phrase “Here is the truth.” Only an industry absolutely allergic to the truth would object to this simple phrase. We shouldn’t be surprised that, after spending so much time, money and effort to deceive the public, these tobacco companies would fight just as hard to avoid telling the truth. It’s time for these companies to end their delays, comply with the court order and finally level with the American people.
The tobacco companies’ latest appeal, filed by Altria, Philip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds and others, is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
The companies must disseminate the corrective statements via television and newspaper advertising, their websites and cigarette packaging. There is ongoing litigation about whether the companies must also make the corrective statements through retail point-of-sale displays, as Judge Kessler originally ordered.
Judge Kessler’s judgment and the corrective statements are necessary reminders that tobacco’s devastating toll is no accident. It stems directly from the tobacco industry’s “single-minded focus on their financial success.” As Judge Kessler found, “[This case] is about an industry, and in particular these Defendants, that survives, and profits, from selling a highly addictive product which causes diseases that lead to 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. Defendants have known many of these facts for at least 50 years or more. 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.”
Six public health organizations – 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 (a 501c4 affiliate of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids) – joined the case as intervenors in 2005.
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