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Appellate Court Orders Tobacco Companies to Move Forward with Long-Overdue Corrective Statements about Dangers of Their Products

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
April 25, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that tobacco companies must comply with a decade-old court order requiring them to publish corrective statements about the dangers of their products because of a 2006 judgment that they had engaged in a massive conspiracy to deceive the American public. While today’s ruling should clear the way for publication of these long-overdue corrective statements, it is disappointing that the court rejected a requirement that tobacco companies acknowledge the truthfulness of these statements by including the phrase “Here is the truth.” The fact that tobacco companies have repeatedly fought this simple phrase shows they haven’t changed and remain as allergic to the truth as ever.

We hope this decision brings a close to the never-ending appeals the tobacco companies have used to delay the corrective statements for more than a decade. As the court stated today, “(W)hile we remand this matter for further proceedings, we see no reason why extensive proceedings will be required in the district court. With the minor revisions mandated in this opinion, the district court can simply issue an order requiring the corrective statements remedy to go forward.”

The corrective statements requirement stems from a landmark 2006 judgment by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, who found the major U.S. tobacco companies had violated civil racketeering laws and deceived the American people about the health risks of smoking and their marketing to children. In a 1,683-page opinion, Judge Kessler detailed how the tobacco companies “have marketed and sold their lethal products with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted.” Importantly, Judge Kessler concluded, “The evidence in this case clearly establishes that Defendants have not ceased engaging in unlawful activity.”

Judge Kessler ordered the tobacco companies to publish corrective statements regarding 1) the adverse health effects of smoking; 2) the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine; 3) the lack of significant health benefits from smoking “low tar” or “light” cigarettes; 4) the manipulation of cigarette design to ensure optimum nicotine delivery; and 5) the adverse health effects of secondhand smoke. The corrective statements must be disseminated through TV and newspaper ads, the companies’ websites and cigarette packaging (there is ongoing litigation whether the companies must also make the corrective statements through retail point-of-sale displays).

Since Judge Kessler’s ruling, tobacco companies have repeatedly fought in court to weaken and delay the corrective statements. It is time for them to end their appeals and level with the American people.

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.