Tobacco Companies Ordered to Place Statements about Products’ Dangers on Websites and Cigarette Packs

Statement of 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 (public health intervenors in the case)
May 01, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tobacco companies must soon publish statements on their websites and cigarette package onserts that tell the American public the truth about their deadly and addictive products, under a court order issued May 1 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The companies must publish the statements on their websites by June 18, 2018, and on cigarette pack onserts by November 21, 2018. Today’s order is another important step in holding the tobacco companies accountable for decades of deception and wrongdoing and ensuring the public knows the facts about the deadly consequences of smoking and secondhand smoke. 

This order further implements the “corrective statements” the tobacco companies were first ordered to make in 2006, when U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler issued a landmark judgment that the companies had violated civil racketeering laws and lied to the American public for decades about the health effects of smoking and their marketing to kids. Starting last November, the tobacco companies have also disseminated the corrective statement through advertisements in newspapers and during primetime on the major television networks. The newspaper ads ended in March and the TV ads will end in November. 

Make no mistake: The tobacco companies are not making these statements 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 Judge Kessler wrote in her 2006 final opinion. Importantly, Judge Kessler concluded, “The evidence in this case establishes that Defendants have not ceased engaging in unlawful activity.”

This case and the corrective statements are powerful reminders that tobacco’s horrific toll is no accident. It stems directly from the tobacco industry’s deceptive and even illegal practices. As tobacco companies seek to portray themselves as responsible corporate citizens working to curb smoking, this case reflects that they are the root cause of the problem. In fact, tobacco companies have fought for more than 11 years to weaken and delay the corrective statements, underscoring how little they have changed.

Tobacco company defendants in the case include Altria, its Philip Morris USA subsidiary and R.J. Reynolds. 

Judge Kessler ordered the tobacco companies to publish corrective statements on five topics about which they had deliberately deceived the public: 1) the adverse health effects of smoking; 2) the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine; 3) the lack of significant health benefit from smoking “low tar,” “light,” “ultra light,” “mild” and “natural” cigarettes (products that have been deceptively marketed as less harmful than regular cigarettes); 4) the manipulation of cigarette design and composition to ensure optimum nicotine delivery; and 5) the adverse health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke (view the text of the corrective statements).

The tobacco companies must disseminate the corrective statements though newspaper and TV advertising, their websites and cigarette onserts. There is ongoing litigation whether the tobacco companies must post corrective statements at retail point-of-sale displays. 

The latest court order sets forth details for implementing the corrective statements on the tobacco companies’ websites and cigarette packs:

  • Websites: The tobacco companies must place the corrective statements on their websites beginning on June 18, 2018, and they will run indefinitely. The statements will appear on the websites of all Philip Morris cigarette brands, including Marlboro; all R.J. Reynolds cigarette brands, including Newport and Camel; and four former R.J. Reynolds/Lorillard cigarette brands sold in 2015 to ITG Brands (Winston, Salem, Kool and Maverick). The statements will also appear on the corporate websites for Altria, Philip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds and ITG Brands.
  • Cigarette packs: The tobacco companies must attach the corrective statements as “onserts” on cigarette packs for a total of 12 weeks over two years (two weeks at a time, three times a year, for two years). They have 30 weeks (until November 21, 2018) to begin implementing this requirement.

Despite significant progress in reducing smoking, tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, killing more than 480,000 Americans and costing the nation about $170 billion in health care expenses each year.

Our 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 to ensure that public health interests were effectively presented to the court.

The public health intervenors are represented by the Washington, D.C., public interest law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks.