Anti-Smoking Ads Paid For By Big Tobacco?

By Kelly Burch 12/04/17

After more than a decade of court appeals, Big Tobacco must finally begin to run ads that highlight the real consequences of cigarette smoking.

Tatted man smoking a cigarette and dissolving into smoke.

A new ad campaign highlighting the dangers of smoking will be hitting the airwaves and printing presses, detailing facts including that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke and that cigarettes were designed to be as addictive as possible. The ad campaign is paid for by the most unlikely group: tobacco companies that have been fighting its implementation for 11 years. 

In 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that tobacco companies would have to pay for and place the ads, but the companies have appealed expensively, delaying the ad campaign by more than a decade. Despite the efforts, the ads have been court-ordered to run, according to an NBC News report

"The ads will finally run after 11 years of appeals by the tobacco companies aimed at delaying and weakening them," the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, National African American Tobacco Prevention Network and the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund said in a joint statement

“Despite their claims to the contrary, the tobacco companies have not changed. Their continuing aversion to the truth is clear from how hard they fought the corrective statements, going so far as to seek removal of the phrase 'here is the truth,’” the statement continued. 

The ads will include the fact that smoking kills 1,200 Americans each day. The jarring statistics are meant to counteract decades of misleading advertising by Big Tobacco. In the ruling that initially called for the ads, Judge Kessler made it clear why they were needed. 

"Defendants have known many of these facts for at least 50 years or more. Despite that knowledge, they have consistently, repeatedly, and with enormous skill and sophistication, denied these facts to the public, to the Government, and to the public health community," she wrote at the time.

However, in the 11 years since the ads were ordered, mainstream media viewership has gone down, and young people are less likely to see the ads since they consume the majority of their media online. 

"Not as much will be seen by young people, who spend less and less of their time watching prime-time television. That is an opportunity lost,” said Robin Koval, CEO and president of Truth Initiative, a nonprofit established as part of a separate tobacco lawsuit. 

Despite that, many people were happy to know that the ads would soon be running. 

"It's a pretty significant moment," the American Cancer Society's Cliff Douglas said. "This is the first time they have had to 'fess up and tell the whole truth.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.