Tobacco companies in the United States have begun running television and newspaper advertisements referred to as “corrective statements” in major US-based outlets about the dangers of smoking cigarettes following a court order by a U.S. District Judge.
According to the order issued by Paul Friedman, which must begin on November 26, tobacco companies will say what they had hidden from consumers and public health authorities for decades – that cigarettes are addictive and deadly and that tobacco companies “intentionally design them to make users more addictive.”
The corrective statements stem from a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department in 1999 and a landmark judgment issued in 2006 by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, who found that tobacco companies had defrauded Americans by lying about the effects of smoking and their marketing to children.
“These corrective statements are not voluntary nor part of a legal settlement – a court has ordered tobacco giants to take this action,” the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said in an emailed statement on Monday.
In the latest decision by the U.S. court, tobacco companies including Altria (the former parent company of Philip Morris International) and Reynolds (a US subsidiary of British American Tobacco) are required to publish one of the five corrective statements in 30-second prime time TV ads and also run full-page advertisements in 50 newspapers – including their online versions – around the country. The TV spots will run five times weekly for 52 weeks.
The corrective statements detail the advert health effects of smoking (kills more people than murder, AIDS, suicide, car crashes, and alcohol combined); addictiveness of smoking and nicotine (cigarette companies intentionally design cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction); and adverse effects of second-hand smoke (kills 38,000 Americans each year).
The rest include lack of significant health benefit from smoking ‘low tar,’ ‘light,’ ‘ultra light,’ ‘mild,’ and ‘natural’ cigarettes (‘low tar’ and ‘light’ cigarette smokers inhale essentially the same amount of tar and nicotine as they would from regular cigarettes) and manipulation of cigarette design to ensure optimum nicotine delivery (designing filters and selecting paper size to maximise the ingestion of nicotine).
“Judge Kessler’s order to the tobacco companies to publish the corrective statements is significant because it is a rare instance of the companies being made to tell the truth about their decades-long conspiracy to deceive the public about health effects of smoking and their marketing to children,” said Bintou Camara, Director of Africa Programs for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
“Government officials and health champions around the world should note this admission and question the companies’ activities in their own countries.”
Just as in Nigeria where tobacco companies employ several tactics to undermine legislation again their products, their counterparts in the US stalled the effectiveness of the corrective statements for 11 years, filing appeal after appeal since 2006 targeted at delaying or watering down the statements.
“They ended their appeals earlier this year, and the judge overseeing the case issued an order directing them to begin running the corrective statement ads,” said Ms. Camara.
“The tobacco companies began running the ads yesterday (on Sunday) and we expect they will continue to do so as directed or face legal sanctions by the U.S government.”
The U.S court order came as tobacco giants like Philip Morris International continue their attempts to rebrand themselves as part of the solution to the global tobacco epidemic.
Recently, the company embarked on programmes to promote itself as a supporter of a smoke-free world, including funding a training of senior journalists in Naivasha, Kenya, to a workshop ‘Tobacco Harm Reduction: Towards a Smoke-free World.’
Last September, PMI announced an annual support of $80 million for the establishment of a Foundation for a Smoke-free World over the next 12 years, a move anti-smoking campaigners say was aimed at burnishing its image and which received criticism from the World Health Organization.
Akinbode Oluwafemi, Deputy Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria urged governments to discontinue engagements with PMI that conflicts with the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and, particularly, strengthen the implementation of Article 5.3 which obligates parties to act to protect their public health policies from the commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.
Mr. Oluwafemi noted that PMI’s training of journalists in Kenya was a continuation of its orchestrated misinformation campaign and attempt to “buy media influence” and silence rising public support for effective tobacco control laws across Africa.
“Governments in Africa and media practitioners should be alarmed that PMI, while increasing the production and marketing of its deadly wares on the continent is now talking about harms reduction through its so-called trainings.
“A very dangerous dimension to PMI new tactic is the muddling of public health policy issues in its quest to grab more lungs or else how can it be imagined that a known producer of a lethal product is talking of helping governments achieve goal three of the Strategic Development Goals which promote good health and wellbeing?
“We can see through this deception. Again, if PMI is interested in a smoke-free world, all it needs to do is stop cigarette production and stop undermining regulations across our continent.”
Tobacco companies are not strangers to posturing themselves as public health stakeholders in the campaign for a smoke-free world.
In 2014, the British American Tobacco Nigeria, BATN came under severe criticism from anti-tobacco campaigners for organising a training for police officers in Lagos on implementing the Smoke-free in Public Places law signed by the then governor, Babatunde Fashola.
The BATN had defended its actions at the time arguing that the training was part of its efforts to support key stakeholders in the country to drive a fully compliant and well-regulated tobacco sector in a transparent and responsible manner.
Mr. Oluwafemi said the global consensus about how to reduce tobacco use is continually undermined by PMI and other tobacco companies doggedly fighting strong policies proven to reduce tobacco use around the world such as higher tobacco taxes, graphic health warnings, and bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship.
“PMI should stop gambling with our lungs through its deceptive concept of a smoke-free world,” he said.
“There is no safe alternative to the manufacturing, sale, and marketing of tobacco products.”
Last May, the Nigerian government introduced nine regulations in the Nigeria Tobacco Control Act that will be implemented by the federal government.
But the implementation of the Act remains a mirage as the government continues to await the approval of the draft regulations by the National Assembly.
Ms. Camara said the Nigerian government and civil society organisations can use the corrective statements issued by the US Court as further evidence that tobacco companies have a long history of fighting proven public health measures and lying to the public.
“While the court order only requires these statements be published in America, tobacco companies use many of the same strategies to promote their deadly products and grow their market shares around the world.
“Nigeria can protect against these tactics by implementing proven public health measures such as enlarging picture health warnings on tobacco packs, requiring all public places to be smoke-free and further restricting tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship.”