Next Sunday, more than 11 years after a federal court ordered it, tobacco companies will begin running frank ads on TV and in newspapers including the Inquirer to admit their products are deadly.
"More people die every year from smoking than from murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes, and alcohol combined," says one of the statements the companies are compelled to use.
The settlement on the "corrective statement" ads was reached last month by the tobacco companies, the U.S. Department of Justice, the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and four other public health groups.
"I think the really important thing here is the truth," said Diane Phillips, who directs lobbying efforts in Pennsylvania for the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network. "We have known the truth and let the public know. But finally, the industry itself has to admit it."
The corrective ads stem from the 1999 Justice Department lawsuit against the tobacco industry, which culminated in the landmark 2006 judgment that found the companies had violated racketeering laws and lied for decades about the dangers of smoking. The companies fought for more than 11 years to weaken and delay the corrective statements requirement.
In an October press release, Altria Group Inc. — which will run the ads with Reynolds American Inc. and other cigarette makers — proclaimed the companies have changed their ways.
"This industry has changed dramatically over the last 20 years," said Altria lawyer and vice president Murray Garnick. "We're focused on the future and working to develop less risky tobacco products."
Despite progress in reducing smoking, federal data show that tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S, annually killing more than 480,000 people and costing $170 billion in health care expenses. In Pennsylvania, where 18 percent of adults smoke, the habit claims 22,000 lives and costs $6.3 billion in health care each year.
The ads will contain various statements, including "secondhand smoke causes lung cancer and coronary heart disease in adults who do not smoke," "nicotine is the addictive drug in tobacco," and the tobacco companies "intentionally designed cigarettes to make them more addictive."
Full-page print and online ads will appear on Sundays for about four months in dozens of newspapers, including Spanish-language publications. TV commercials will appear five times a week for a year on one of the three major networks and some other channels.