US tobacco companies forced to advertise on television

US Networks Get First Tobacco Ads Since 1971

Tobacco companies in the US are required to advertise on television after a lawsuit means they have been forced to share information on the damage caused by their products.

The new adverts are as plain as an advert can be – simply text over a plain background and a voiceover, but the ads' content will include the consequences of smoking and second hand smoke and how cigarettes include additives that are designed to keep users hooked.  The court order also forces cigarette companies to run newspaper ads. 

It started back in 1999, when the US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the tobacco companies claiming they had broken racketeering laws, and for decades had deliberately deceived the American public.  In 2006 the companies were ordered to run these ‘corrective statements’, which was upheld in 2009.  But it has taken until this year for the lawsuit to be settled, following appeals by the tobacco companies.  The Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

In her final opinion of the case in 2006 District Judge Gladys Kessler said tobacco companies “have marketed and sold their lethal products with zeal, with deception, with a singled-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted.” 

The case also saw an intervention from coalition of public health bodies which includes the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, National African American Tobacco Prevention Network and the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund. 

In a press release the coalition said: “Despite their claims to the contrary, the tobacco companies have not changed. Their continuing aversion to the truth is clear from how hard they fought the corrective statements, going so far as to seek removal of the phrase “here is the truth.” Their main business is still to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products, and the Federal Trade Commission reports they spend $8.2 billion a year to market cigarettes in the U.S., the bulk of it spent on price discounts that research has found increases youth smoking. The tobacco company defendants in this case sell the three most popular cigarette brands among youth, which are Philip Morris’ Marlboro and R.J. Reynolds’ Newport and Camel.”

Ads will run five times per week for a year and must run Monday to Thursday between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. on US networks CBS, ABC or NBC.  Newspaper ads will run on selected dates throughout the year across 50 newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, L.A Times and New York Times.

Television ads for cigarettes were banned in 1971, with a further ban in 1998 that further restricted advertising including on stadium advertising and billboards.

And not all everyone thinks the ads go far enough.

Robin Koval, CEO of Truth Initiative, the anti-tobacco advocacy group said "They fought very hard to make these ads as invisible and unwatchable as they possibly can be… there are not a lot of young people watching ABC, CBS and NBC primetime anymore or reading a daily newspaper."