May. 22 2015
WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit today upheld a court order requiring tobacco companies to publish statements correcting their decades of deception, rejecting all but one of the companies’ arguments aimed at delaying and weakening the order.
It has been almost nine years since U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler’s ruling that the cigarette companies violated civil racketeering laws by lying to the public about the dangers of smoking and their marketing to children. Today’s ruling should clear the way to move forward quickly with publishing the long-overdue corrective statements ordered by Judge Kessler. It’s time for the tobacco companies to stop their delaying tactics and finally tell the truth to the American people about their deadly and addictive products.
While we are disappointed the appellate court rejected a preamble sentence in the corrective statements that a federal court had ruled the companies “deliberately deceived the American public,” it is a strong victory for public health that today’s ruling rejected every other claim made by the tobacco companies and did not overturn any of Judge Kessler’s voluminous factual findings about the industry’s deception.
Importantly, the ruling upheld Judge Kessler’s requirement that tobacco companies disclose that they intentionally designed cigarettes to ensure addiction. Even with regard to the statement that the tobacco companies deliberately deceived the public, today’s ruling did not dispute the accuracy of the statement, finding only that it was barred by the narrow scope of the RICO law.
With the exception of the preamble sentence, today’s ruling upholds the specific language of the five corrective statements ordered by Judge Kessler. The corrective statements will address the companies’ deceptions 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.
Judge Kessler ordered tobacco companies to disseminate the statements via television and newspaper advertising, their websites and cigarette packaging. There is ongoing litigation about whether the tobacco companies must also make the corrective statements through retail point-of-sale displays, as Judge Kessler originally ordered.
Judge Kessler’s verdict and the corrective statements she ordered are necessary reminders that tobacco’s devastating toll is no accident. It stems directly from the tobacco industry’s deceptive and illegal practices. 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, the Government, and to the public health community.” Importantly, Judge Kessler found that “the evidence in this case clearly establishes that Defendants have not ceased engaging in unlawful activity.”
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.