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health fallout

US Order Could See Big Tobacco Apologizing for Years of Deceit on Tobacco Health

Posted by Mark J. Miller on January 13, 2014 06:44 PM

Big Tobacco is finally seeing the error of its way—not by its own volition, of course. The US Justice Department has worked out an agreement with America’s tobacco companies to offer up apologies for all the lies they have fed the public over the years about cigarette smoking. According to the Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing, the statements will “say the companies ‘deliberately deceived the American public.’” An average of 1,200 people die daily because of smoking, the Washington Post reports.

It has been 50 years since US Surgeon General Luther Terry told tobacco companies to put warning labels on cigarette packaging and 18 years since Dr. Jeffrey Wigand told 60 Minutes how his employer, tobacco giant Brown & Williamson, knowingly added carcinogenic and addictive additives to its cigarettes. Wigand’s tale became the hit film, The Insider, but it didn’t stop the Big Tobacco train from still rolling through its path.

The forthcoming “apology” comes after years of legal wrangling. The original order came in 2006 as the result of a case that had originally been filed in 1999. Judge Gladys Kessler found then that the companies were guilty of civil racketeering and lying to the public, USA Today notes.

The apologies from Altria Group, Reynolds American and Lorillard will come in the form of online and full-page print ads in the country’s 35 largest newspapers’ Sunday editions as well as on commercials that will run on the three largest TV networks throughout the year. Current cigarette smokers will also find a printed apology attached to their packs. There will also need to be corrective statements placed on the websites of all the tobacco companies involved, and there is currently discussion on whether to have any apology present at the cigarette’s point-of-sale in the agreement.

There is of course room for yet another appeal. "If the tobacco companies accept the corrective statements Judge Kessler has ordered and move forward, this could be a big step forward," Stanton Glantz, a professor at the University of California-San Francisco and the author of a book about the case, told USA Today. "If, on the other hand, the tobacco companies appeal the corrective statements—something the draft order explicitly allows them to do—it will be more years before anything actually happens."

Kessler is scheduled to look at the agreement Wednesday and sign off on it or announce that she needs more time to review it. We'll believe the apology when we see it. 

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