Tobacco companies ordered to tell the truth about smoking

Despite a decade-long delay in implementing the 2006 ruling that major tobacco companies must correct fraudulent statements about the harm done by their products, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) states that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Phillip Morris USA, Lorillard and Altria have now been ordered to publish“corrective statement” advertisements next month and tell the American people the truth about their deadly and addictive products.

In 2006, a federal court found the offending companies to be in violation of civil racketeering (RICO) laws, subsequently ordering them to disseminate through newspapers, television, package inserts and corporate websites “corrective statements” about addiction, health effects of smoking, health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke, nicotine enhancement, and light and low tar cigarettes. It has taken 11 years for the wording of those statements to be agreed upon and sanctioned by the court.

The tobacco companies are required to air the corrective statements on ABC, CBS or NBC networks nationally five times per week for a year. The companies are also required to publish corrective statements in the Sunday editions of 35 newspapers and on newspaper websites. In Oklahoma, corrective statements will appear in the Black Chronicle, per the judge’s order.

OSDH is hopeful that by increasing awareness of the false statements and criminal behavior of the big tobacco companies, it will help reduce the harm done by deceptive advertising. Published research studies have found that kids are twice as sensitive to tobacco advertising as adults and are more likely to be influenced to smoke by cigarette marketing than by peer pressure. One-third of underage experimentation with smoking is attributable to tobacco company advertising.

It is estimated that these companies spend approximately $168.5 million in Oklahoma marketing each year.

“While the corrective statements may bring little comfort to those who were deceived and lied to by the tobacco industry, who subsequently became addicted and are suffering from disability and disease from cigarettes, or from family members and friends who have witnessed the terrible deaths of loved ones caused by cigarette use, perhaps these “corrective statements” will help prevent future generations from taking up this deadly, killer habit,” said Dr. Terry Cline, OSDH Commissioner and Secretary for Health and Human Services.

According to a study by the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center (OTRC), public support is strong for lawmakers to reject potential tobacco industry influences.

About two out of three Oklahoma adults think lawmakers should refuse meals or other gifts from tobacco company lobbyists (70.5 percent) or campaign contributions from tobacco company lobbyists (70.8 percent). Only one in six (16.7 percent) think lawmakers should allow tobacco companies or tobacco company lobbyists to help write laws. Greater awareness of the statements and findings may increase the intensity of support for lawmakers’ rejection of potential tobacco industry influences.

Less than one in ten Oklahoma adults (8.5 percent) think tobacco companies are now taking responsibility for the harm caused by smoking.