Cig makers finally paying the price for 'smoking is healthy' lies

A June 1952 ad run by Camel in Country Gentleman. Source: Flickr/Don O'Brien

If ever there was a case of better late than never, this may be it.

News outlets report that 11 years after a US court first found that tobacco companies conspired to lie to the US public about the dangers of smoking, the companies will be forced to run big advertisements on TV and in newspapers to correct their deceptions.

The Guardian reported that the ‘corrective statements’ were due to being running in the US on November 26

Through much of the 20th century, manufacturers hid the fact that smoking caused deadly diseases, that secondhand smoke caused deadly diseases, and that nicotine was addictive, the judge found in the 2006 case. The corrective statements will list the many diseases linked with tobacco use, and the companies will be forced to admit that they had “intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction”, according to reports.

But they will not be required to acknowledge that they intentionally lied about the risks associated with smoking, other reports said, having successfully argued in appeal that such an order by the court in the 2006 conspiracy case was punitive, not corrective.

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It had taken the US Justice Department seven years to get the case through court as it was, dashing hopes at the time that it would strike a blog against ‘big tobacco’.

It seems hard to believe now that cigarettes and other tobacco products were long prescribed by doctors, often in return from free cartons of cigarettes from tobacco manufacturers, and that smokers were unaware that their habit was in fact deeply unhealthy, rather than the healthy stress-reliever it was marketed as.

Camel was particularly famous for its ‘More doctors smoke Camels’ advertising slogan . Meanwhile, the public was seduced by the Malboro Man, a quintessentially American cowboy astride his horse, cigarette dangling from his lips.

Smoking was so ubiquitous, the New York Times points out, that in 1965, 43 per cent of American adults smoked, compared to just 15 per cent in 2015.

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Tobacco products are not sold in plain packaging in the US as they are in Australia and the UK, and they are far cheaper to purchase, while smoking is still permitted in bars and restaurants in some states.

Critics of the corrective statements told The Guardian that the 11 years the tobacco manufacturers had spent appealing the ruling had effectively watered down the punishment because far fewer people watched television stations or read newspapers than at the time of the original judgment. The advertisements aren’t ordered to be shown on online media outlets or on social media.

Do you remember when smoking was recommended by doctors, or considered a healthy habit?  How would you have dealt with the tobacco companies if you had been the judge in the 2006 case?