Editorial: Truth in advertising, finally

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Last Sunday, after more than a decade of arguing about content and wording, advertisements whose message can be boiled down to the words “tobacco kills” began appearing on network television and in newspapers.

In the ads, paid for under a 2006 court ruling, tobacco companies admit that not only are their products harmful and addictive but that they deliberately made them that way. Unfortunately, but perhaps not unintentionally on the part of the companies, the ads will appear where the people most in need of viewing them, children and teens, aren’t likely to see them.

Relatively few youth in the social media era read newspapers or watch network television. New Hampshire state government should devote more of the paltry share of the millions of dollars it receives each year in tobacco settlement money to make sure young people get the message.

The ads, which will run for the next year, are stark, the information they convey horrifying.

Cigarettes alone kill 1,200 Americans per day, not counting people who die from second-hand smoke and other forms of tobacco.

In her ruling, Federal District Court Judge Gladys Kessler said that tobacco companies “marketed and sold their product with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted.”

In New Hampshire, those costs, according to the anti-tobacco advocacy organization NH Tobacco Free Kids, include 1,900 residents who die from smoking every year and annual health costs of $729 million. The state and federal tax burden created by smoking comes to $875 per household per year, and that’s just for cigarettes.

Each year, 500 of the state’s children and teens become daily smokers. Vaping, inhaling liquid nicotine turned into a mist by a battery-powered heating element, has made the problem worse. The vapor is often flavored to appeal to children – the modern version of the bubble gum cigarettes of old – but the nicotine remains addictive.

New Hampshire is a wealthy, well-educated state, yet 9.3 percent of its high school students smoke. The national average is 8 percent. The state’s adult smoking rate, 18 percent, is three points higher than the national average, according to Tobacco Free Kids.

A lot more needs to be done to reduce those numbers.

Earlier this year, Gov. Chris Sununu increased funding for tobacco prevention and cessation efforts from $125,000 to $165,000. The increase is welcome but still just a tiny fraction of the $40 million the state receives from tobacco companies each year from an earlier court settlement. The intent of the settlement was to offset the harm caused by tobacco use, not to help the state balance its budget. A million bucks a year would be a meaningful contribution.

Since the advertisements apparently won’t appear on platforms such as YouTube or Instagram, parents and educators should make every effort to see that the message gets to kids. Schools should post the newspaper ads in hallways and teachers should explain why the ad campaign is being conducted – because tobacco companies spent huge sums to convince the public that a product they knew to be deadly was safe.