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  • Melissa Potter

Airing Out Big Tobacco's Dirty Laundry

Starting on November 26, 2017, the major U.S. tobacco companies began running court-ordered ads on television and in newspapers that tell the American public the truth about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke, as well as the companies’ intentional design of cigarettes to make them more addictive.

The ads are the culmination of a long-running lawsuit the U.S. Department of Justice filed against the tobacco companies in 1999. A federal court in 2006 ordered the tobacco companies to make these “corrective statements” after finding that they had violated civil racketeering laws (RICO) and engaged in a decades-long conspiracy to deceive the American public about the health effects of smoking and how they marketed to children. The ads will finally run after 11 years of appeals by the tobacco companies aimed at delaying and weakening them. Reality Check wanted to highlight these "corrective statements." At Boynton Middle School, Reality Check youth used the theme "Airing Out Big Tobacco's Dirty Laundry in a school photo contest. At Norwich High School, they also used the theme and hung real clothes with the corrective statements written on them.

Make no mistake: The tobacco companies are not running these ads voluntarily or because of a legal settlement. They were ordered to do so by a federal court that found they engaged in massive wrongdoing that has resulted in “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,” as U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler wrote in her 2006 final opinion.

This case and the corrective statements are timely reminders both that tobacco use remains an enormous public health problem in the United States – it is the No. 1 cause of preventable disease and death – and that tobacco’s horrific toll stems directly from the harmful practices of the tobacco industry.

Tobacco Companies Haven’t Changed

Despite their claims to the contrary, the tobacco companies have not changed. Their continuing aversion to the truth is clear from how hard they fought the corrective statements, going so far as to seek removal of the phrase “here is the truth.” Their main business is still to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products, and the Federal Trade Commission reports they spend $8.2 billion a year to market cigarettes in the U.S., the bulk of it spent on price discounts that research has found increases youth smoking. The tobacco company defendants in this case sell the three most popular cigarette brands among youth, which are Philip Morris’ Marlboro and R.J. Reynolds’ Newport and Camel.

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