Columbia judge orders tobacco firms to admit “fraudulently denying” harms of smoking

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 30 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8205
  1. Edward Davies
  1. 1New York

A federal judge has ordered tobacco companies to publish a series of statements admitting that they denied the dangers of smoking.

In a damning conclusion Gladys Kessler, of the US District Court for the District of Columbia, said, “The evidence in this case clearly establishes that Defendants have not ceased engaging in unlawful activity . . . For example, most Defendants continue to fraudulently deny the adverse health effects of secondhand smoke which they recognized internally; all Defendants continue to market ‘low tar’ cigarettes to consumers seeking to reduce their health risks or quit; all Defendants continue to fraudulently deny that they manipulate the nicotine delivery of their cigarettes in order to create and sustain addiction.”

Kessler had previously said she wanted the industry to pay for corrective advertisements, but the latest ruling is the first time that she has laid out what the statements would say.

The statements Kessler chose cover a number of different areas and include “Defendant tobacco companies intentionally designed cigarettes to make them more addictive” and “All cigarettes cause cancer, lung disease, heart attacks, and premature death—lights, low tar, ultra lights and naturals. There is no safe cigarette.”

Each advertisement is to be prefaced by a statement, that a federal court has concluded that the defendant tobacco companies “deliberately deceived the American public about the health effects of smoking.”

An Associated Press report said that a spokesman for the Altria Group, owner of the nation’s biggest tobacco company, Philip Morris USA, said that the company was studying the court’s decision and did not provide any further comment.

A spokesman for Reynolds American, parent company of the second leading cigarette maker, R J Reynolds Tobacco, said that the company was reviewing the ruling and considering its next steps.

In her ruling on 27 November Kessler ordered the tobacco companies and the Justice Department to meet beginning next month to consider how to implement the corrective statements, including whether they would be put in inserts with cigarette packs and on websites and in television and newspaper advertisements. Those discussions are to conclude by March.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8205