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Tobacco Companies Fight Government's Efforts to Make Them Tell the Truth about Deadly Products

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
February 24, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC — Even after being found guilty of a decades-long conspiracy to deceive and defraud the American people, the tobacco companies still do not want to tell the truth about their deadly and addictive products. The companies are doing everything they can to delay and weaken the public statements a federal judge has ordered them to make to correct their past lies and prevent future deceptions.

In a victory for public health, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler on Wednesday rejected the companies' latest delaying tactics, stating forcefully that 'Defendants will not be allowed to succeed in that endeavor.' Judge Kessler made public the very strong corrective statements that the U.S. Department of Justice is recommending, rejecting a tobacco industry bid to keep them secret.

The Justice Department is proposing that the tobacco companies be required to finally tell the truth to the American people. The government's corrective statements would force the tobacco companies to admit that they lied to the American people and set the record straight about the serious health risks of smoking and secondhand smoke, the addictiveness of nicotine, how they manipulate nicotine, and their deceptive marketing of light and low-tar cigarettes.

The government's proposed statements are strong, factually accurate and entirely consistent with Judge Kessler's findings in her landmark 2006 verdict that the tobacco companies are guilty of violating civil racketeering laws. By challenging these statements, the tobacco companies are showing that they are still unwilling to tell the truth. Finally being required to tell the truth about their products and their behavior is a small price to pay for decades of deception, millions of premature deaths and billions in health care costs.

Judge Kessler ordered the corrective statements to prevent future deception by the tobacco companies. To achieve the court's goal, the tobacco companies must be required to tell consumers the truth not only about their products, but also about their prior deceit so consumers will not be misled in the future. Without such an admission, the tobacco companies could turn the court's requirement that they publish corrective statements into an opportunity to appear trustworthy, enabling them to continue deceiving the public.

In 2006, Judge Kessler issued a 1,683-page opinion finding the major cigarette manufacturers guilty of violating civil provisions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). In June 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals in the case, allowing Judge Kessler's verdict to stand.

One of Judge Kessler's remedies, since upheld on appeal, requires the tobacco companies to make corrective statements in newspaper and television advertising, at point of sale, on their web sites and on cigarette packaging. The government conducted extensive research before proposing what it believes are the most effective statements. Judge Kessler will determine the final corrective statements.

The Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund is one of six public health groups that Judge Kessler allowed to intervene in the case, along with the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights and National African American Tobacco Prevention Network.