Why Tobacco Companies Are Paying to Tell You Smoking Kills

The biggest tobacco companies in the United States will start running prime-time television commercials and full-page ads in national newspapers on Sunday — but the campaign is unlikely to spur enthusiasm for their products.

“More people,” one ad says, “die every year from smoking than murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes, and alcohol, combined.” Another reads: “Cigarette companies intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction.”

Each ad starts by noting that Altria, R. J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard and Philip Morris USA were ordered to make the statements by a federal court.

The messages stem from a lawsuit brought by the Justice Department in 1999. As part of the 2006 ruling in the suit, which sought to punish cigarette makers for decades of deceiving the public about the dangers of their product, the companies were ordered to disseminate “corrective statements” centered on the health risks and addictive nature of smoking. But until now, they resisted through appeals and by wrangling over wording.

“It’s both an important victory and a frustrating one,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who has worked on the case since 1999. The tobacco companies “have spent millions of dollars and a decade of time resisting a court order that simply requires them to publish truthful facts about their products and their behavior,” he said.

Mr. Myers said the ads would be less effective than originally intended because fewer people read newspapers and watch television today. The tobacco companies, he said, also negotiated to not include the phrase “here’s the truth” in the ads.

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