Big Tobacco will have to run a national advertising campaign apologizing for lying about health risks from smoking

US district judge Gladys Kessler has ordered the world's largest tobacco companies to pay for a two-year, national US advertising campaign to apologize for lying about smoking's health risks, and for perverting the science on the issue.

Kessler's ruling on Tuesday, which the companies could try to appeal against, aims to finalise the wording of five different statements the companies will be required to use.

One of them begins: "A federal court has ruled that the defendant tobacco companies deliberately deceived the American public by falsely selling and advertising low tar and light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes."

Another statement includes the wording: "Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day."

Tobacco companies ordered to admit they lied over smoking danger [Reuters/Guardian]


  1. and will govt also run ads saying how they profit from allowing the product to be sold after they knew about the risks?

    1. My thought exactly.  The best of the lying was over 50 years ago.  By the time they get around to apologizing for climate change, we’ll all be doing the backstroke.

  2. Cigarettes are bad and all, but… Based on information from the CDC, an average of 6,677 Americans die every day.  The statistic above claims that 1 in every 6 Americans’ death is caused directly by smoking.  I just don’t believe that’s true, or even remotely provable.

    For this statistic to be true, almost every smoker in the United States would have to die as a direct result of smoking (the CDC estimated that 20.9% of Americans smoked as of 2009).

    1. Ah yes: the argument from personal incredulity. :)

      Here’s my argument from personal credulity: The numbers jive from my perspective.

      Approximately 1 in 2 smokers die of tobacco-related illness, which comes to just under 11% of the populace.

      Bump the number up a bit for secondhand smoke-related deaths and you are precisely in the 1 in 6 zone. Is such a large portion due to secondhand smoke plausible? The research supports that tobacco smoke is responsible for between 1/4 to 1/3 of all heart attacks. This tied very much to secondhand smoke, as the mechanisms by which tobacco smoke induces AMI—namely inflammation of the arteries and platelet activation—are triggered by secondhand smoke-level exposures. And that’s just one route to mortality from tobacco smoke.

      1. Who’s a smoker? How many cigs do you have to smoke over what time span to be included in your category of smokers?

        1. Going to have to ask what kind of deaths they are attributing to smoking also. I am absolutely certain smoking increases risk of health problems that lead to death. I’m also a non smoker and I find the smell of cigarettes very unpleasant and have trouble breathing around smoke.

          But how do they get the specific numbers. People jump to lung cancer, but smoking could be linked to all kinds of causes of death. So is it only looking at cases where smoking is known to be the cause or where smoking was involved in any other kind of death at any age. 

          IOW if my grandfather died at 98 of heart failure, but smoked for over 40 years would they be considering that a smoking related death?

          1. Do you really think the researchers and statisticians who come up with the numbers have not thought of these and related issues? Do you really think it is all just part of an irrational prejudice against smokers and smoking or some such?

          2.  No…I have no doubt in my mind that researchers and statisticians took at least SOME of these variables into account.  What the curious and skeptically minded among us are asking for is a quick rundown of WHAT and HOW they are measuring, without having to pour through 1000s of pages of studies and meta analyses.

          3. “Do you really think the researchers and statisticians who come up with the numbers have not thought of these and related issues?”

            Actually the specifics behind studies are often vague which is why research continues to be done on a subject. Do you believe everything you hear if it has a percentage by it?

            ” Do you really think it is all just part of an irrational prejudice against smokers and smoking or some such?”

            Do you really think that much straw can fit in an argument?

            Let me ask you a question that actually makes sense? Do you think EVERYTHING is a result of a concerted effort with a target? Because I don’t. But since you seem to have the conspiracy angle cooked up there, and it came from your mind not mine, I wonder…

            I guess if you are a very simplistic thinker, everything has to be divided into us/vs/them or else you don’t know how to think.

            Yeah, I think it is amazingly possible for studies to be misleading even when the intended effect is for public health.

            Yes, I think it’s important to ask and look into methods of any research. With large famous studies like these, it is sometimes possible to find a breakdown of methods. Hence, motivation to ask.

            Why? Because it makes for better research, greater understanding of effects of disease, and better treatment for patients.

            So it kind of matters… a lot.

            So there.

    2. That figure is for 2009, so you would have to consider the higher numbers of smokers in the decades before then who would still be experiencing the long term effects of their (or other’s) smoking.

    3. That’s about 2.4 million total deaths a year.  Last time I looked into figures on drug-related deaths was a decade or two ago, but it was about 400,000 tobacco deaths a year (some from cancer, some from heart disease), so yeah, that’s about 1/6 of all US deaths.  About 100,000 deaths were from alcohol (disease deaths, not counting car accidents), maybe 10-20,000 from caffeine, about 2500 each from heroin and cocaine, 0 from marijuana and LSD. 

      Tobacco deaths may have declined a bit since then, but that still had a lot of long-term smokers, meth has become more of a problem but displaced some coke usage, and prescription drugs have become more of a problem.   But basically it was safer to be a coke addict than a tobacco addict, but 80-90% of coke users aren’t addicts, just occasional users, while over 95% of tobacco users are addicts.  On the other hand, coke deaths are likely to be young people dying quickly, as opposed to tobacco users dying older and more slowly.  (And dead coke users might be young and pretty, but dead meth users look even worse than dead lung cancer victims.)

  3. Seeing as the same PR firms are involved maybe this will set a precedence for the perversion of science and lying from the coal company’s about Climate Change.

  4. I grew up learning all about how dangerous cigarettes were but finding out I could get a shitty little buzz from it when I lived in a country where I couldn’t get weed was all it took to get me hooked for many years.

    1. My father smoked, and it was nasty enough to be around that I never wanted to be a smoker.  I used to try an occasional cigarette or cigar every few years on social occasions, but a while back a friend brought back some cigarettes from Denmark and I bummed one off of her, and I was sick to my stomach for about three days after that; haven’t tried it since.  (On the other hand, I have smoked other things in Denmark that were quite nice :-)

  5. Just want to point out that the tobacco companies were criminally convicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) laws, putting them on par with the mafia.

    1. Saying they’re “on par with the mafia” kind of assumes that the mafia doesn’t involve itself in the tobacco companies at all, or vice versa. I find that hard to believe.

      1. The US Mafia has a certain amount of involvement in smuggling tobacco between states with different tax levels, e.g. driving truckloads from North Carolina up to New York and relabeling them, and maybe smuggling some into Canada as well.  But it’s typically easier for them to just hit up convenience stores for protection money and get their cut indirectly.

  6. I would track down the tobacco company execs and the PR flacks they employed and make them deliver their apology during a commercial break in the Superbowl.

    The apology will be made in the hospital room of someone dying of lung cancer, to the patient, his or her family, and the country.

    And they’ll have to pay for the commercial time out of their retirement funds.

    And they’ll need to do it every year until they run out of money or die.

    1. Melodramatic much?

      While I am all in favour to hold Tobacco companies accountable for their misleading marketing campaigns and other failings in the past I have to say as an ex smoker of almost twenty years, that anybody who suffers/dies from lung cancer today as a result of his/her smoking habit has only themselves to blame for it.
      You must have lived in a cave for over 40 years to not be aware of the serious health risks you take when smoking.

      1. That’s like saying arms dealers are blameless because it’s the people actually using the guns that are at fault. Enabling destructive behaviors makes you morally culpable, even if it doesn’t make you solely responsible for it.

        You don’t chant “Jump!” to a suicidal person on a rooftop or window, you don’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, and you don’t intentionally profit off of a drug you know is highly physically and psychologically addictive as well as slowly lethal.

        1. I am not saying they are blameless. It is actually the very first thing I said.
          And they paid for it big time.

          If you want to blame somebody then blame society for keeping tobbacco consumption legal.
          Your only ‘solution’ would be prohibition, which I might add would be a really great Idea. *cough*

          ‘Moral responsibility’ has no play in here.
          Hollywood is morally more guilty by promoting tobacco use than any other industry.
          From what I know the movie industry has not paid a single cent to anyone for their moral failings yet.

      2. Meh… and anyone with cirrhosis, and anyone with type 2 diabetes, and anyone with a second suicide attempt, and…

        man people have problems! Good thing I’m above all that!!!

        That being said I kind of think blaming the companies past a certain point just serves to give people a false sense of activist justice. Did they lie to people? Yes. Did they destroy good research and muddy the waters? Yes.

        Is that still happening right now? Yes.

        I’m more concerned about what poisons me today than what poisoned my grandparents.

  7. Too bad the advertising won’t reach the places it’s needed most. All those needless deaths in Flavor Country……

  8. From what I can gather, the link between tobacco and lung cancer was established in 1962. I therefore infer from this ruling that the tobacco companies have been able to stall for half a century. And now advertising agencies are set for a windfall. Did big tobacco move into big advertising and media by any chance?

    1. The British Doctors Study published in the 50s provided the first solid evidence of a connection between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer. There had been a dramatic rise in the incidence of lung cancer in the twentieth century but up until the publication of this report the smart money was on exposure to exhaust fumes as the cause, I believe.
      In order to protect its tax revenue, as they feared publication of the report would lead to a rapid cessation in smoking, the British government seriously considered suppressing the report. Ho hum.

    2. My grandmother stopped smoking when she was pregnant with my uncle (who was born in 1946) because of the possible harm it could cause to a fetus, so it seems people have had some idea for a long time.

    1. Even if that entire organization and media campaign was nothing but misinformation and sheer fabrications, they’d still have the moral high ground in that they aren’t also profiting off of death.

      1. But the executives!  Will nobody think of the executives!  Their poor children might be forced to associate with the upper middle class!  Their incentive pay might take a significant hit!  All because of some meddling not-for-profit kids!

      2.  If you respond to something you don’t like with lies and half truths, you are not taking the moral high ground because you are doing nothing to inform the consumer of the truth.  By countering tobacco with lies you are not allowing people to make an informed decision, you are just hoping they make your version of the right decision.

        Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you and can be addictive, everyone knows that alcohol is bad for you and can be addictive, everyone knows that fast foods and many other products can have negative health consequences too.  If they are not illegal, adults should be given reliable information to make their own decision.  If that’s not good enough and we have to resort to lies to kill the industry it should be made illegal, not just bad PR. 

        I’m not saying that tobacco shouldn’t be held accountable for it’s misdeeds, but wasn’t that what the billions and billions of dollars of class actions lawsuits were about several years ago, and their limitations against advertising and their responsibility to put large warning labels on all of their products.  I’m just not sure what good this does.

        Also, I find it a little weird that the public has demonized tobacco but there seems to be a groundswell of support for marijuana, which is unfiltered, less regulated, addictive, and ounce for ounce laden with more carcinogens.  I guess America’s drug dealers haven’t been lying about that though.

        1. “Unfiltered” is what bongs are for; too bad the government bans them instead of promoting them as healthier.  Marijuana is not physically addictive, though some people do prefer being high all the time, and it’s not like tobacco where 95% or more of the users are addicts.

          Marijuana is not ounce-for-ounce laden with more carcinogens (especially given that modern marijuana is much more concentrated, so you don’t need the large quantities of burning leaves like we did in the 60s), a typical joint has much less smoking material than a typical cigarette, and I don’t know anybody who smokes two packs a day of the stuff.  (I’m not even sure if I could successfully light the joints in the second pack, but if you’re going through large quantities it’s much easier to use brownies and avoid the whole smoke problem.) 

    1.  Yes, the executives will be forced at spearpoint to spraypaint their apology on the side of the ruins.

  9. While they’re at it, the time has come to brand portions of the medical community for the drug pushers they are. The U.S. has five percent of the worlds population but uses 80 percent of the opioid pain killers. Deaths from abuse of pharmaceutical drugs outnumber deaths from illegal drugs. And still zero deaths attributed to marijuana, but tens of thousands of arrests and incarcerations.

    1. Not to be pedantic but if somebody dies of lung cancer because he or she smoked joints for more than twenty years on a regular basis, I would call that a death that can be attributed to the use of Marhiuana.
      As a proponent of drug legalisation that is more far reaching than the simple decriminalization of weed I always found this one of the weakest arguments you can make. Every drug use is harmful in one way or another. Better to be honest about it. 

    2. The U.S. has five percent of the worlds population but uses 80 percent of the opioid pain killers.

      You mean the ones that they buy from Canadian online pharmacies?

    3. It is suspected that weed gives a higher risk of lung cancer – but there are no large enough studies currently to say anything definitive. I expect that to change shortly. Chronic use does, however, give bronchitis, edema, and impairs immunological function. 

      Granted, it doesn’t seem as bad as cigarettes (as far as we know), but it isn’t life giving either.

  10. Similarly, will all companies who have lied in advertisements be required to air apology commercials?  I think the tobacco companies should be required to also include the following staggering fact:   100% of non-smokers die

    1. Yeah, but that’s because of eating apples laced with DDT, which he also said was perfectly safe.
      “DDT leaves a bit of a bitter aftertaste but I wouldn’t worry about it. All glory to the hypnoto… erm, Monsanto!”

  11. For the online version of these ads, they’re going to have to change that last sentence to “Everyday.”

  12. Yay.  Those fuckers contributed massively to the death of my mother after years of appalling smoking-related ill-health (born in the 30’s, she waltzed straight into the smoking-is-swish generation), and gave me massive nicotine exposure in vitro, which turned me into a full blown Marly Red guy for a few years.

    I could give less of a damn about the companies, their shareholders, their stakeholders, their dependents, etc etc.

    Freedom of choice is one stick to throw at me – but when you’re climbing the walls in a vortex of confusion, pain and anxiety, and all you need to do is light up a smoke to fix it … there’s no real freedom of choice.  Addiction doesn’t have a special name because it’s easy to deal with.

  13. They’re requiring the tobacco companies to run ads? That’s backwards. They should be barred from all advertising for a period of time.

  14. So they’re going to apologize for something that people who are dead did 50 years ago? Sure, that’ll fix it. How about apologizing for making and selling a product that is designed to addict, and ONLY causes adverse health effects? How about NOT DOING THAT THING?

    1. Because people will start buying and growing illegal tobacco. Did you learn nothing from every other drug out there? Granted tobacco may well be the most useless and most annoyingly addictive…

      but don’t underestimate the fact that people WANT it.

  15. I’m all for Big Tobacoo being responsible for their product and actions, but are these ads really going to be news to anybody? This just seems like legalized shaming. The only people this is benefitting are those who already have the facts and are getting joy from watching Big Tobacco getting its arm twisted.

    That’s great and all… but what does it accomplish? I think that money could be better spent researching lung cancer, or anti-smoking education.

  16. In Norway, tobacco companies aren’t allowed to advertise at all. It is illegal to sell non-tobacco products with tobacco brands (i.e. no Marlboro Classics clothes). Tobacco and tobacco related products cannot be on display in shops, and this even includes candy cigarettes and licorice pipes.
    Work is in progress to ban any design/branding on the cigarette packs. So that all tobacco products must have black text on white background, using the same font and a maximum font size.

  17. I read a book on the science of advertising – brain scans being done when people look at logos and such – that people respond to the warnings on the packs of cigarettes just like they respond to the logo or other positive aspects of the brand. Even when it was the most horrible “You will die die die” message, people got excited by it and it made them want to smoke more.

  18. What we see here was an attempt at creating the opinion that there was a consensus among experts when that consensus was unlikely to exist. There might be other examples.

    A disbelief that a consensus among experts exists is not the same as a disagreement with experts.

Comments are closed.