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Tobacco companies to run court-ordered ads telling the truth about their products

Starting Nov. 26, 2017, the major U.S. tobacco companies must run court-ordered newspaper and television advertisements that tell the American public the truth about the deadly consequences of smoking and secondhand smoke, as well as the companies' intentional design of cigarettes to make them more addictive.

The ads are the culmination of a long-running lawsuit the U.S. Department of Justice filed against the tobacco companies in 1999. A federal court in 2006 ordered the tobacco companies to make these "corrective statements" after finding that they had violated civil racketeering laws (RICO) and engaged in a decades-long conspiracy to deceive the American public about the health effects of smoking and how they marketed to children. The ads will finally run after 11 years of appeals by the tobacco companies aimed at delaying and weakening them.

Make no mistake: The tobacco companies are not running these ads 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 U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler wrote in her 2006 final opinion.

Judge Kessler ordered the tobacco companies to publish corrective statements on five topics about which 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.

This case and the corrective statements are timely reminders both that tobacco use remains an enormous public health problem in the United States — it is the No. 1 cause of preventable disease and death — and that tobacco's horrific toll stems directly from the harmful practices of the tobacco industry.

The TV ads will air on the major networks for one year; and the tobacco companies must also publish the corrective statements on their websites and cigarette packs.

Public health advocates in Minnesota welcome the corrective statement ads because 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 will work with state/city officials to raise the sale age of tobacco products to 21, pass a comprehensive smoke-free law, increase the state's tobacco tax and increase funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

In Minnesota alone, 10.6 percent of high school students still smoke and 2,500 kids become regular smokers each year. 15.2 percent of Minnesota adults smoke. Tobacco use claims 5,900 Minnesota adult lives and costs the state $2.5 billion in health care bills annually. 26.7 percent of cancer deaths are attributable to smoking.

"The tobacco industry has long profited from deceptively promoting products that lead to disease, death and economic hardship," said Cindy Pederson, Wadena County Public Health Director. "In Minnesota, tobacco companies spend $110.5 million yearly to market cigarettes and other tobacco products to young adults. Not surprisingly, nine out of 10 tobacco users start before the age of 18. We're hopeful these corrective statements will shine the light on the tobacco industry's decades-long deceit and encourage political leaders to enact policies to help bring about the first tobacco-free generation."

Wadena County Public Health is currently working on tobacco prevention through a three county tobacco prevention grant, Tobacco Free Communities; that includes youth prevention strategies and adult cessation support. Despite overall declines in adult smoking rates, some populations smoke at higher rates. Additional quit support strategies will focus on this health inequity. Prevention work is also provided through a federal Drug Free Communities grant and supported through a county coalition called CHAMP (Chemical Health and Multi-drug Prevention).

For more information on prevention efforts, contact Public Health at (218) 631-7629.