WASHINGTON – The nation’s tobacco companies and the Justice Department are including media outlets that target more of the black community in court-ordered advertisements that say the cigarette makers lied about the dangers of smoking, according to a brief filed in U.S. District Court in Washington on Wednesday.
The advertisements are part of a case the government brought in 1999 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations. U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled in 2006 that the nation’s largest cigarette makers concealed the dangers of smoking for decades and ordered them to pay for corrective statements in various advertisements in newspapers, as well as on TV, websites and cigarette pack inserts.
The companies involved in the case include Richmond, Va.-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, N.C.-based Reynolds American Inc.; and No. 3 cigarette maker Lorillard Inc., based in Greensboro, N.C.
Wednesday’s briefing revises a January agreement outlining the details of those ads to address concerns raised by the judge and black media groups, which argued the ads should be disseminated through their outlets because the black community has been disproportionally targeted by tobacco companies. The court must still approve the agreement, which was signed off on by several public health groups that intervened in the case.
The new agreement proposes revising the list of where the ads will run to include newspapers in the 10 cities with the highest black populations in the U.S., as well as an additional 14 black newspapers. Companies also will also have the option of airing one-third of the anti-tobacco ads on TV stations other than ABC, CBS and NBC as long as they reach the same overall number of people and an increased number of black viewers. Those could include Fox Broadcasting, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox Inc.; Viacom Inc., the company behind MTV, Comedy Central, VH1 and BET; and other networks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 18 per cent of U.S. adults smoked in 2012, the same percentage as blacks. But 21.5 per cent of black adults were smokers in 2005, compared with 20.9 per cent of adults. The federal agency also says the annual incidence of lung cancer was highest among blacks between 1998 and 2006 with a rate of 76.1 per 100,000 people, compared with 69.7 per 100,000 among whites.
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.” 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 38,000 Americans a year.”
Tobacco companies have called the corrective statements “forced public confessions” designed to “shame and humiliate” them. A federal appeals court rejected efforts by the tobacco companies to overrule Kessler’s ruling requiring the corrective statements but they are appealing the actual content of the advertisements. Companies also may be required to display the statements at stores that sell their products.
Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum