The federal court's order requires that the companies publish five statements related to cigarette smoking across several communication channels, including on their websites and on cigarette packs for at least a year.
* The statement will cover these categories:
* 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.
* Manipulation of cigarette design and composition to ensure optimum nicotine delivery.
* Adverse health effect of exposure to secondhand smoke.
Cigarette advertising returns to network television today for the first time in two generations.
Instead of marketing Marlboro, Newport or Winston, however, the 30- to 45-second spot ads on the ABC, CBS and NBC television networks feature federal court-ordered corrective statements about the dangers of smoking combustible cigarettes.
The five broadcast TV ads will run weekly for an entire year, with the manufacturers having the option of when the ads run between 7 and 10 p.m. and between Mondays and Thursdays.
Full-page newspaper ads will run in major U.S. metropolitan areas, including Charlotte in North Carolina. The newspaper ads will appear in the front section of the Sunday edition on four additional dates: Sunday, Dec. 10, Jan. 7, Feb. 4 and March 4.
The ads are projected to cost several millions of dollars for each manufacturer. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. has said that compliance could cost $20 million.
Each statement will begin: "A federal court has ordered Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard and Philip Morris USA to make this statement ..." The manufacturers will take turns being the first listed in the statement.
The agreement settles an 18-year-old federal lawsuit about the marketing of the manufacturers and their various affiliates and acquisitions going back to the 1950s.
However, as the ads debut, it remains unclear whether the statements will have a significant impact on persuading smokers to quit and non-smokers to not begin. The question is whether the ads will carry little weight in a society where the dangers of smoking have been known and accepted by adult smokers for decades.
"This case and the corrective statements are timely reminders both that tobacco use remains an enormous public health problem in the United States," said a coalition of public-health and anti-tobacco advocacy groups.
"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."
A similar argument has been made against expectations of a game-changing impact coming from proposed graphic warnings labels on cigarette advertising, such as cadavers and diseased lungs.
"The legal use of corrective advertising transcends its impact," said John Sweeney, a marketing professor at UNC Chapel Hill. "It holds advertisers to a standard of truth-in-advertising no matter the success or failure of a particular corrective campaign."
Sweeney said "the issue of tobacco has been largely decided in the court of public opinion. I believe smokers will tune out the campaign and the reputations of the tobacco companies are fixed."
That reality, Sweeney said, "does not make the corrective campaign a waste."
"There is always a new generation of young non-smokers who may be affected when they make the critical decision to smoke."
Legislative and legal background
In 1970, Congress banned cigarette advertising from radio and television, a ripple effect from the Surgeon General's warning about the public health risk of consuming combustible cigarettes.
The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between 46 state attorneys general, including North Carolina, and the major U.S. tobacco manufacturers led to significant changes that included banning cigarette billboards, stadium advertisements and brand-name merchandise.
Those changes contributed to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. exiting its 32-year sponsorship of NASCAR's Winston Cup after the 2003 season to reduce marketing expenses.
At that time, the Winston-Salem Journal cited several causes for the decision: the slumping economy in 2001-03; higher state excise taxes affecting profits; societal changes spurred by anti-tobacco groups; expensive legal battles that include the MSA's tighter restrictions on marketing options; a changing corporate culture; and NASCAR's expanding television package.
However, some critics said the MSA did not have the overall impact they envisioned because states diverted billions of dollars from covering smoking-related healthcare expenses to their general funds.
In 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled the manufacturers had concealed the dangers of smoking for decades. The U.S. Justice Department filed a civil case in 1999 under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law, or RICO.
A federal appeals court ruled in May 2015 that proposed federal corrective statements on cigarette advertising exceeded their legal reach with some parts of their language, particularly that tobacco manufacturers lied to consumers.
In April 2017, a federal appeals court reaffirmed that the manufacturers are required to include corrective warning statements.
However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit also ruled the statements cannot include the phrase that Kessler required: "Here is the truth."
Assessing the impact
Twenty percent of adult Americans, or nearly 49 million, used some form of tobacco product in 2015, federal health care officials said in a report Nov. 12.
However, the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration also stirred again the public-health debate of what is a tobacco product, particularly when it comes to electronic cigarettes and vaporizers.
"I think that they serve as a reminder to users of cigarettes and the public that cigarettes are deadly and still the single most preventable cause of death," said Scott Ballin, past chairman of Coalition of Science or Health.
"Yet they tend to re-enforce the notion that nothing has changed when much has changed. What has changed is that we now have an FDA that is considering new strategies for dealing with how we approach the problem.
"This includes giving smokers significantly lower risk, regulated, alternative products to help them get off the deadly cigarette habit."
Restrictions became more extensive in 2009 when Congress gave the FDA broad regulatory authority over nearly every aspect of tobacco product manufacturing and marketing.
However, tobacco manufacturers continue to spend more than $8 billion annually on the marketing avenues they are allowed to pursue, which include discounts to retailers.
The fact that tobacco manufacturers continue to spend billions of dollars on their products, as well as the siphoning off of the MSA funding, remains a particularly prickly point for anti-tobacco advocates despite the appearance of the court-mandated statements.
"Despite their claims to the contrary, the tobacco companies have not changed," the public-health coalition said. "Their continuing aversion to the truth is clear from how hard they fought the corrective statements.
"Their main business is still to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products ... the bulk of it spent on price discounts that research has found increases youth smoking."
Last week, the American Medical Association said the debut of the statements has spurred the group to set a new anti-tobacco policy that emphasizes "educating the public and policymakers" about the background for the need for the statements.
That includes encouraging state and medical specialty societies to work with public health organizations to help identify public policies that may have been directly or indirectly-influenced by tobacco companies, and encourage lawmakers to reject any potential tobacco industry influences on future policy.
"We will do everything we can to ensure the public is aware of the negative health consequences associated with tobacco products and help deter more people from using them," said Dr. Albert Osbahr III, an association board member.
David Sweanor, an adjunct law professor at the University of Ottawa and the author of several electronic-cigarette studies, said "there is a recognition in social science that such messages (corrective statements) need to be paired with clear, actionable steps people can take to deal with the danger."
"The scary messages on risks, like the ones about industry misbehavior, will likely increase dissonance among people who smoke," Sweanor said.
"This situation is aggravated by the lack of other good information on issues of relative risk from government health bodies."
For example, Sweanor said that "despite the ground-breaking announcement of FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in late July on the importance of the continuum of risk (with tobacco products), there has been no follow-through; no concerted effort to inform people who smoke of the range of options for giving up cigarettes."
"For instance, these agencies continue to demonize vaping and smokeless tobacco rather than point out to people who smoke that cigarettes are massively more hazardous.
"If the goal is to say, 'tobacco companies misbehaved,' these messages are fine," Sweanor said.
"If the goal is to reduce the carnage resulting from that misbehavior, these messages and the overall approach of government health bodies comes up tragically short."
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