After over a decade of legal delays, the tobacco industry on Sunday began running the first court-ordered TV spots and newspaper ads outlining the addictive effects and health dangers of smoking.
The ads feature black text on a plain white background, with a robotic-sounding female narration.
“A federal court has ordered Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard and Philip Morris USA to make this statement about the health effects of smoking,” one spot begins.
It then mentions that smoking kills more people than murder, suicides, car crashes, alcohol, drugs and AIDS combined.
Then comes the most damning of self-indictments:
“Cigarette companies intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction.”
The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) was keen to remind people that tobacco companies weren’t running the ads of their own volition.
“Make no mistake: The tobacco companies are not running these ads voluntarily or because of a legal settlement,” ACS CAN said in a release. “They were ordered to do so by a federal court that found they engaged in massive wrongdoing that has resulted in ‘a staggering number of deaths per year, an immeasurable amount of human suffering and economic loss, and a profound burden on our national health care system,'” the release continued, quoting U.S. District Judge Gladys Keller.
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ACS CAN’s senior counsel Mary Rouvelas said it’s high time Big Tobacco told the truth about cigarettes.
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“They have been denying the health effects of their products for over 50 years and so now it’s up to them to come clean and let the public know what these products do,” Rouvelas told Global News.
The new ads are the result of a 1999 lawsuit filed by the Justice Department under President Bill Clinton which sought to recover some of the billions the federal government spent caring for people with smoking-related illnesses.
A federal judge ultimately sided with the government in 2006, ruling that Big Tobacco had “lied, misrepresented and deceived the American public” about the effects of smoking for more than 50 years. The decision came nearly a decade after U.S. states reached legal settlements with the industry worth $246 billion.
But under the racketeering laws used to prosecute the federal case, the judge said she could not make the companies pay, instead ordering them to publish “corrective statements” in advertisements, as well as on their websites, cigarette packs and store displays.
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Originally the U.S. government wanted companies to state that they had lied about smoking risks. But the companies successfully challenged that proposal, arguing that it was “designed solely to shame and humiliate.” An appeals court ruled the ads could only be factual and forward-looking.
Ultimately, the ads are less hard-hitting than what was proposed, and aired over 11 years after a judge ruled that the companies had misled the public about the dangers of cigarettes.
“The industry is absolutely masterful at manipulating the legal process to delay it as long as it possibly can,” Rouvelas said.
Critics say the ads are uninteresting and aren’t compelling enough to engage viewers, especially young people.
A former smoker who was shown the mock-up ads called them terrible.
“They weren’t very compelling ads, “said Ellie Mixter-Keller, 62, of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, who smoked a pack a day for 30 years before quitting 12 years ago. “I just don’t know if I would have cared about any of that.”
— With files from Global News reporter Allison Vuchnich and The Associated Press