WASHINGTON – America's biggest tobacco companies say they are ready and willing to pass along factual public health information about cigarettes.
But they say they will not go along with being forced to underwrite an ad campaign that would have the companies brand themselves as liars.
In 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the largest cigarette makers to publicly admit that they had lied for decades about the dangers of smoking. The ruling came after testimony from 162 witnesses, a nine-month bench trial and thousands of findings by the judge that defendants engaged in a massive campaign of fraud.
The companies argue that the ads are designed to ensure that the public "does not believe anything the companies say on any topic," and they want an appeals court to set aside the "corrective statements," as the ads are known, and craft new ones.
Oral arguments were set for Monday before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The ads would be in all cigarette packs sold for 12 weeks over the course of two years, in TV spots once per week for a year, in a separate newspaper ad by each company, on company websites indefinitely and at certain retail outlets. They stem from a civil case the government brought in 1999 under RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
The preamble to the ads says a "federal court has ruled that Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard and Philip Morris USA deliberately deceived the American public." The companies say the statement is overbroad and misleading.
The companies in the case include Richmond, Virginia-based Altria Group Inc., owner of the biggest U.S. tobacco company, Philip Morris USA; No. 2 cigarette maker, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., owned by Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based Reynolds American Inc.; and No. 3 cigarette maker Lorillard Inc., based in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Kessler required the companies to publicly address smoking's adverse health effects, nicotine manipulation and the health impact of secondhand smoke. The judge also required that the companies address the truth about "light" and "low tar" brands and the nature of cigarette addiction.
In 2009, the appeals court directed Kessler to craft corrective statements confined to purely factual and uncontroversial information that would reveal previously hidden truths about the tobacco industry's products.
But the companies said in a recent filing that Kessler went beyond those instructions and ordered inflammatory statements that require the defendants to denigrate themselves.