Starting Nov. 26, the major U.S. tobacco companies must run court-ordered newspaper and television advertisements that tell the American public the truth about the deadly consequences of smoking and secondhand smoke, as well as the companies’ intentional design of cigarettes to make them more addictive.

An 11-year-long court battle

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.

A Federal Court has ordered Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard, and Philip Morris USA to make the following statements about the health effects of smoking.

  • 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.
  • Smoking causes heart disease, emphysema, acute myeloid leukemia, and cancer of the mouth, esophagus, larynx, lung, stomach, kidney, bladder, and pancreas.
  • Smoking also causes reduced fertility, low birth weight in newborns, and cancer of the cervix.
  • Smoking is highly addictive. Nicotine is the addictive drug in tobacco.
  • Cigarette companies intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction.
  • It’s not easy to quit. When you smoke, the nicotine actually changes the brain – that’s why quitting is so hard.
  • Many smokers switch to low tar and light cigarettes rather than quitting because they think low tar and light cigarettes are less harmful. They are not.
  • “Low tar” and “light” cigarette smokers inhale essentially the same amount of tar and nicotine as they would from regular cigarettes.
  • All cigarettes cause cancer, lung disease, heart attacks, and premature death – lights, low tar, ultra lights, and naturals. There is no safe cigarette.
  • Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard, and Philip Morris USA intentionally designed cigarettes to make them more addictive.
  • Cigarette companies control the impact and delivery of nicotine in many ways, including designing filters and selecting cigarette paper to maximize the ingestion of nicotine, adding ammonia to make the cigarette taste less harsh, and controlling the physical and chemical make-up of the tobacco blend.
  • When you smoke, the nicotine actually changes the brain – that’s why quitting is so hard.
  • Secondhand smoke kills over 38,000 Americans each year.
  • Secondhand smoke causes lung cancer and coronary heart disease in adults who do not smoke.
  • Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections, ear problems, severe asthma, and reduced lung function.
  • There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

View the full text of the corrective statements and details on when and where they will run.

"A staggering number of deaths"

“Make no mistake,” said the American Heart Association (AHA) in a statement. “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.”

Tobacco use is the top cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S. Tobacco use kills more than 480,000 Americans and costs the U.S. about $170 billion in health care expenses each year.

The AHA says the tobacco companies fought hard against the corrective statements, going so far as to seek removal of the phrase “here is the truth.”

Price discounts aimed at youthful smokers

“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.

“The tobacco companies also continue to attack efforts to reduce smoking and other tobacco use. Last year, for example, Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds spent more than $90 million against three ballot initiatives to increase state cigarette taxes. As Judge Kessler concluded in her 2006 opinion, ‘Defendants could significantly reduce adolescent smoking by withdrawing their opposition to tax increases and stopping all price related marketing….’ Instead, the tobacco companies have done the exact opposite.”

In her opinion, Judge Kessler found that “there is a likelihood of present and future violations of RICO.” She added, “The evidence in this case clearly establishes that Defendants have not ceased engaging in unlawful activity.”

AHA: More government action needed

The AHA says the corrective statements are a start, but that more is needed to curb smoking in the U.S.:

At the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must fully utilize the authority it received under a 2009 law to regulate all tobacco products. In particular, the FDA should take several actions that can make an enormous difference in reducing smoking and other tobacco use. It should implement its plan to limit nicotine in cigarettes to minimally addictive or non-addictive levels, and it should include other combustible products. It should require graphic warnings covering at least half of cigarette packs, as the 2009 law mandated. And it should prohibit the use of menthol in cigarettes and flavors in other products, which have been shown to promote youth use of these products. In addition, Congress must reject pending proposals that would weaken FDA oversight of tobacco products and cut funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s critical tobacco prevention and cessation programs. 

At the state and local levels, elected officials should support strong policies including: significant tobacco tax increases; comprehensive smoke-free laws; increasing the legal sale age for tobacco to 21; coverage for comprehensive quit-smoking benefits; well-funded prevention and cessation programs; and, in the absence of FDA action, prohibitions and restrictions on flavored tobacco products, including menthol-flavored cigarettes.