Philip Morris, R.J.. Reynolds Tobacco Co., and Lorillard Tobacco Co. are currently dining on crow. A federal judge has ordered tobacco companies to publicly admit that they have been lying to consumers about the deadly effects of smoking for decades.
“By ensuring that consumers know that [tobacco companies] have misled the public in the past on the issue of secondhand smoke in addition to putting forth the fact that a scientific consensus on this subject exists,” declared Federal Judge Gladys Kessler, “defendants will be less likely to attempt to argue in the future that such a consensus does not exist.”
War of Words
Although the federal court is still populated with other cigarette labeling lawsuits (as well as state efforts at curbing advertising and private class-action claims), this ruling is a resounding victory and a hard-fought (unfinished) battle. The companies were found guilty of racketeering six years ago and ordered to put tougher warning labels using different wording on their products. Some of the corrective statements include:
“Smoking is highly addictive. Nicotine is the addictive drug in tobacco,” and “When you smoke, the nicotine actually changes the brain—that’s why quitting is so hard.” Perhaps most humbling of the messages is: “A Federal Court has ruled that the Defendant tobacco companies deliberately deceived the American public about designing cigarettes to enhance the delivery of nicotine, and has ordered those companies to make this statement. Here is the truth: Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day.”
Meaningless, softening terms like “low tar” and “mild” were also called into question.
Big Tobacco Crumbling?
Earlier this year, a federal appeals court rejected a government mandate that companies put graphics—such as of a corpse with deteriorated lungs—on products. The companies claimed this was a violation of free speech.
Another victory was won this year against Big Tobacco: the Food and Drug Administration, which in 2009 positioned itself to regulate tobacco products, is forcing companies to list their deadly ingredients.