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Judge orders tobacco companies to say they lied

A federal judge yesterday ordered tobacco companies to publish corrective statements that say they lied about the dangers of smoking and that disclose smoking’s health effects, including the death on average of 1,200 people a day.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler previously had said she wanted the industry to pay for corrective statements in various types of advertisements. But yesterday’s ruling is the first time she’s laid out what the statements will say.

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.” Among the required statements are that smoking kills more people than murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes and alcohol combined, and that “secondhand smoke kills over 3,000 Americans a year.”

The corrective statements are part of a case the government brought in 1999 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations. Kessler ruled in that case in 2006 that the nation’s largest cigarette makers concealed the dangers of smoking for decades, and said she wanted the industry to pay for “corrective statements” in various types of ads, both broadcast and print. The Justice Department proposed corrective statements, which Kessler used as the basis for some of the ones she ordered yesterday.

Tobacco companies had urged Kessler to reject the government’s proposed industry-financed corrective statements; the companies called them “forced public confessions.” They also said the statements were designed to “shame and humiliate” them. They had argued for statements that include the health effects and addictive qualities of smoking.

Kessler wrote that all of the corrective statements are based on specific findings of fact made by the court.

“This court made a number of explicit findings that the tobacco companies perpetuated fraud and deceived the public regarding the addictiveness of cigarettes and nicotine,” she said.

A spokesman for Altria Group Inc., owner of the nation’s biggest tobacco company, Philip Morris USA, said the company was studying the court’s decision and did not provide any further comment. A spokesman for Reynolds American Inc., parent company of No. 2 cigarette maker, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., said the company was reviewing the ruling and considering its next steps.

The statements Kessler chose included five categories: adverse health effects of smoking; addictiveness of smoking and nicotine; lack of significant health benefit from smoking cigarettes marked as “low tar,” “light,” etc.; manipulation of cigarette design and composition to ensure optimum nicotine delivery; and adverse health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke.

Among the statements within those categories:

“Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day.”

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