Big Tobacco Will Admit In New Ads That All Cigarettes Are Bad For You, Intentionally Addictive

Image courtesy of Mark Turnauckas

Eleven years after a federal court ordered the country’s biggest cigarette producers to produce a series of warning ads informing people about the dangers of their products, Big Tobacco is finally preparing to publish those “corrective statements” in TV ads, newspapers, online, and in cigarette packaging.

Philip Morris USA parent company Altria Group Inc. and British American Tobacco — the only remaining tobacco companies in the U.S. at this point — have agreed to start airing ads on broadcast TV networks, in newspapers, on their corporate sites, and on pamphlets tucked into packages of cigarettes, acknowledging that these products were intentionally designed to be more addictive, and that they’re really bad for you.

In documents [PDF] filed this week in D.C federal court, the companies say they’ve reached an agreement to start spreading the word about the ill effects of cigarette smoking as early as next month, in both English and Spanish.

The Ads

These won’t be splashy, catchy advertising campaigns, and they won’t contain graphic images illustrating the dangers of smoking.

Instead, each of five statements — displayed in black and white — will include a preamble noting that a federal court has ordered cigarette companies to make certain statements about things like the health effects of smoking, the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine, and that low tar and light cigarettes are just as bad as regular cigarettes.

For example, one ad will acknowledge that “smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day.”

“More people die every year from smoking than from murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes, and alcohol, combined,” the disclosure notes.

Another statement notes that cigarettes were intentionally designed by companies “with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction.”

A third ad admits that although many smokers switch to “low tar” and “light” cigarattes instead of quitting because they think they’re less harmful, “They are not. ‘Lowtar’ and ‘light’ cigarette smokers inhale essentially the same amount of tar and nicotine as they would from regular cigarettes,” the disclosures reads.

“All cigarettes cause cancer, lung disease, heart attacks, and premature death – lights, low tar, ultra lights, and naturals,” the ad says. “There is no safe cigarette.”

Altria tells The Wall Street Journal that it’s expecting to spend about $31 million on these ads.

“We remain committed to aligning our business practices with society’s expectations of a responsible company,” Murray Garnick, Altria’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel said in a statement. “This includes communicating openly about the health effects of our products, continuing to support cessation efforts, helping reduce underage tobacco use and developing potentially reduced-risk products.”

We’ve reached out to BAT for further comment and will update this post if we hear back.

How Did We Get Here?

For those unfamiliar with how we got to this point, here’s a (somewhat) quick rundown:

In 1999, the Justice Department accused the tobacco industry of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization [RICO] Act by conspiring to deny the health hazards of smoking.

A federal court ruled finally sided with the DOJ in 2006. As part of that ruling, the industry defendants were ordered to produce “corrective statements” that would be used in national TV, radio, and print ads warning people about the dangers of their products.

Big Tobacco appealed this matter at least a half-dozen times, arguing that it violates their First Amendment rights, that the wording of the proposed statements was not compliant with RICO, and so on.

Confusing matters, some of the original defendants sold their business to competitors or other companies who were not part of the DOJ lawsuit.

After yet another appeal, in May, a federal appeals panel granted some minor tweaks to the wording of these warnings but again shot down the industry’s claims that they violate Big Tobacco’s First Amendment rights. The court also said it saw no reason for further delays on implementing the warnings.

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