Federal Judge Orders Big Tobacco to Admit Deception.

In a decision that many commentators believe will have long ranging implications for companies that are not truthful about the risks inherent with the use of their products, Judge Kessler orders Big Tobacco to come clean and amit its misdeeds in public pronouncements. Below are links to stories covering this groundbreaking decision.

One major television network and most of the primary print media outlets reported on a ruling Tuesday in which a Federal judge’s ordered big tobacco companies in the US to dispel past advertising that downplayed the health effects of smoking by publishing corrective statements.

        ABC World News (11/27, story 5, 0:30, Sawyer) reported, “An extraordinary punishment for the country’s big cigarette companies today: A Federal judge said they lied and they have to take out ads and admit it publicly.”

        Bloomberg News (11/27, Schoenberg, 1M) reports US District Judge Gladys Kessler in the District of Columbia on Tuesday ruled that big US tobacco companies “must publish warnings with their products, in advertisements and on their websites saying they lied to the public about the health hazards of smoking.” Kessler was ruling on the “text of so-called corrective statements proposed by the Justice Department.”

        The AP (11/27, Share) reports that although Judge Kessler ruled in 2006 that “she wanted the industry to pay for corrective statements in various types of advertisements,” her ruling Tuesday “laid out what the statements will say.” Kessler stipulated that each “corrective ad 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.” The corrective statements are “part of a case the government brought in 1999 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations.”

        According to USA Today (11/27, Winter, 1.71M), Kessler is requiring the tobacco companies to publish corrective statements in five topics: The “adverse health effects of smoking; the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine; the lack of any significant health benefit from smoking ‘low tar,’ ‘light,’ ‘ultralight,’ ‘mild,’ and ‘natural,’ cigarettes; Defendants’ manipulation of cigarette design and composition to ensure optimum nicotine delivery; and the adverse health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke.” Additionally, Kessler mandated that each statement must “begin with a ‘preamble’ that briefly explains the court ruling, states the companies must make the statement and then declare, ‘Here is the truth.'”

        CQ (11/28, Norman, Subscription Publication) notes that Tobacco “firms also would be required to say on websites and in cigarette box inserts that smoking kills on average 1,200 people a day and that more people every year die from smoking than from murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes and alcohol combined.”

        The Wall Street Journal (11/28, Kendall, 2.29M) “Law Blog” says the tobacco companies in the case are Altria Group’s Philip Morris subsidiary, Reynolds American’s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Inc.’s Lorillard Tobacco Co. The companies have not yet indicated whether they will appeal Kessler’s order.

        Reuters (11/28, Ingram, Baertlein) adds that the tobacco firms are also engaged in a separate court battle with the Food and Drug Administration over the agency’s proposal for graphic warnings on tobacco product labels. The tobacco giants contend that such a requirement would be a violation of their rights to free speech.

        Also covering Tuesday’s ruling are the CNN (11/27, Mears) website, BBC News (11/28), the Daily Mail (UK) (11/28) and the National Law Journal (11/28, Scarcella

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