by Shannon Kincaide Godbout
Pittsboro, NC – Starting November 26, 2017, the major U.S. tobacco companies began running ads in newspapers in NC and nationally telling the American people the known facts about the deadly consequences of smoking and secondhand smoke.
Official U.S. documents show that a federal court in 2006 ordered the companies to make these statements after finding the companies guilty of breaking civil racketeering laws and making misrepresentations to the public about the dangers of smoking and how some ads are marketed to children. The ads will run after 11 years of appeals by the tobacco companies, who successfully fought to remove the phrase “here is the truth” from the corrective statements, which would have implied that the industry deliberately deceived the public.
Many public health advocates in NC welcome the corrective statement ads, citing that they will focus attention on the enormous public health problem caused by tobacco use and the need for strong action to save lives. To reduce tobacco use, advocates are ready to partner with state-wide officials to address four evidence-based measures to reduce tobacco use, especially by teens: 1) raise the age of sale of tobacco products to 21; 2) adopt strengthened smoke-free laws and policies; 3) increase the price of cigarettes by at least $1.50 per pack; and 4) strengthen the funding for state and local tobacco prevention and cessation programming.
“We have seen the positive impact that our county’s tobacco-free policy has had on our staff and the public,” said Chatham County Health Director Layton Long. “Tobacco-free policies play a large part in helping people quit, and for those who have successfully quit, quitting for good. These policies set a positive example for our youth and also help reduce exposure to secondhand smoke when visitors come to our offices. We hope that these ads will serve as a reminder that tobacco and its byproducts are hazardous to our health and that we need to continue to support prevention and cessation programs.”
According to the NC Youth Tobacco Survey (2015), in NC alone, 9.3 percent of high school students still smoke and nearly 16.8% use electronic cigarettes (http://bit.ly/2CkKZ4m). According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, tobacco use claims 14,200 NC lives and costs the state $3.81 billion in health care bills annually (http://bit.ly/2B1ieZW).
“For too many years, the public health community has known and seen the dangerous effects that tobacco has on our youth,” said Long. “We hope that these statements from the tobacco companies will send a clear message to our youth that all tobacco products, including new products like electronic cigarettes, are dangerous, addictive, and ultimately lead to disease and early death.”
In 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the major cigarette manufacturers, charging they had violated the civil provisions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and other laws. Tobacco company defendants in the case include Altria, its Philip Morris USA subsidiary, and R.J. Reynolds.
On Aug. 17, 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler issued her verdict against the companies.
Judge Kessler ordered the tobacco companies to publish corrective statements on five topics, stating they had deliberately deceived the public:
- the adverse health effects of smoking;
- addictiveness of smoking and nicotine;
- 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);
- manipulation of cigarette design and composition to ensure optimum nicotine delivery; and
- adverse health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke.
The corrective statement ads started running November 26, 2017, in print and online in about 50 newspapers specified by the court. They will also run during prime time on the major television networks for one year. The tobacco companies must also publish the corrective statements on their websites and cigarette packs; according to national networks, implementation details are still being finalized.
The corrective statement newspaper ads must run in the front section of Sunday newspapers on November 26, 2017; December 10, 2017; January 7, 2018; February 4, 2018; and March 4, 2018. In NC, corrective statements will appear in the Charlotte Observer. Per the judge’s order, corrective statements will also appear in USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. The tobacco companies will pay the entire cost of running the ads.
Despite significant progress in reducing smoking, tobacco use is still the leading preventable cause of 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.
Support is available for those interested in quitting tobacco. The Chatham County Public Health Department is offering free tobacco cessation classes this January for any Chatham County resident, employee, and their family members. Participants will receive a free QuitSmart Stop Smoking Kit and two weeks of nicotine replacement therapy. These free sessions will be held from 5:30 pm-6:45 pm on January 17th, January 29th, and January 31st. There will also be an informational session held on January 10th to learn more about the QuitSmart program. All sessions will be held at the Chatham County Public Health Department in Pittsboro (80 East Street). Contact Anna Stormzand at (919-545-8445) to reserve your spot or for more information.
QuitlineNC is also a free cessation resource and is available 24 hours a day to assist individuals quitting tobacco. Call toll-free 1 800-QUIT-NOW or visit www.quitlinenc.org.