News from the Noteworthy by Tobacco Free Communities: Delaware, Otsego & Schoharie
New Signs Correct Companies’ Lies
“Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day.” This is one of 17 new signs, known as “corrective statements,” that are being posted next to cigarette displays in tobacco retailers throughout Otsego County, a result of a December 2022 federal court order. These new signs “correct” the misstatements and flat-out lies told by the tobacco industry about the health harms of smoking and secondhand smoke, the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine, and the industry’s manipulation of cigarettes to make them more addictive. The court order stipulates the signs must be installed between July 1 and September 30, 2023 and will stay posted until June 30, 2025.
While the corrective statements and posting them in tobacco retailers are new to the general public, they have been 17 years in the making. In 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled the major U.S. tobacco companies—Altria and its Philip Morris USA subsidiary, R.J. Reynolds, and ITG Brands—had violated civil racketeering laws and lied to the public for decades about the health risks and addictiveness of cigarettes and their marketing to children. The tobacco companies were ordered to produce factual or truth statements that corrected their decades-long lies and misinformation and to publicize them widely.
As has long been their practice, the tobacco companies fought the corrective statement order for years by arguing over the language of the statements and other aspects. In 2018, the tobacco industry was made to air corrective statements in TV commercials. It then took five more years for the tobacco companies and the U.S. Department of Justice and public health organizations to agree on the corrective statements’ wording and other criteria and where to post them.
Most of us have known for years that smoking is bad, but many of the corrective statements, which can be viewed on the US DOJ’s Civil Division’s Consumer Protection website, provide lesser known and startling facts about smoking, health and addiction. One, for instance, reads, “Many smokers switch to low tar and light cigarettes rather than quitting because they think low tar and light cigarettes are less harmful. They are not.” Another states the tobacco industry “intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction.”
The court ruling also instructs the corrective statements to be posted at the point-of-sale—usually the checkout counter—because that is where shoppers make the decision of whether to purchase tobacco products or not. Designed with bold black and white lettering on teal and black backgrounds, the signs are meant to catch consumers’ attention and have them think twice about purchasing cigarettes. The signs will be in both English and Spanish, with the latter required in geographic areas with significant Spanish-speaking populations.
The 17 distinctive signs will appear in about 220,000 stores nationwide that are covered by marketing agreements with the defendant tobacco companies. Independent auditors will monitor compliance of the signs posted at correct locations at the manufacturers’ expense, and a tip line will be established so that the public can report incidents of non-compliance.
Most importantly, the new corrective statements should help people across the country and in Otsego County experience fewer smoking-related illnesses and deaths and prevent youth from becoming tobacco users. Otsego County residents looking to quit smoking and vaping can use two excellent cessation programs: 1) the New York State Smokers Quitline, which offers a free cessation starter’s kit and counseling. Call 1 (866) NYQUITS or visit nysmokefree.com; 2) The Wilmot Cancer Institute’s Quit Center, which offers a six-month free Smoking Cessation Program for cigarette smokers, age 21 years and older. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (585) 504-9461.
Jennifer Hill is the community engagement coordinator for Tobacco Free Communities: Delaware, Otsego & Schoharie.