The largest tobacco manufacturers will have to post eye-catching warning signs about cigarette smoking in over 200,000 stores across America beginning Saturday, one of the final major steps in a lawsuit the Justice Department filed against Big Tobacco in 1999.
The signs will be installed in stores between July 1 and September 30, and must be displayed until June 30, 2025. The signs must be in English and also Spanish in regions where there is a significant population of Spanish speakers.
The 17 distinctive statements were “specified by the court many years ago,” according to a press release from a consortium of anti-smoking groups. It applies to Altria and its Phillip Morris US subsidiary, RJ Reynolds and ITG Brands.
An example of a corrective sign shows a large asterisk icon with the statement, “Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day.” The signs will be either 144 or 348 square inches and will be posted in “highly visible places.”
It’s the final step after years of dispute following US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler’s judgment in 2006, when the tobacco companies were first ordered to make the corrective statements. The landmark judgment found the industry defendants guilty of lying about the dangers of cigarettes and secondhand smoke.
“The tobacco companies fought these point-of-sale corrective statements in court for 16 years,” said a statement from the public health advocates, but an agreement was reached last year to post the signs.
The content of the corrective statements was finalized in 2017 and then began to run in different media forms.
The defendants lied “about the devastating health effects of smoking and environmental tobacco smoke, they suppressed research, they destroyed documents, they manipulated the use of nicotine so as to increase and perpetuate addiction, they distorted the truth about low tar and light cigarettes so as to discourage smokers from quitting, and they abused the legal system in order to achieve their goal – to make money with little, if any, regard for individual illness and suffering, soaring health costs, or the integrity of the legal system,” Kessler said in her final opinion.
In a statement, Altria said it is transitioning adult smokers to “potentially less harmful products.”
“This is one of the final steps to close a long-running lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Justice,” a company spokesperson said.
R.J. Reynolds said these corrective statement signs appear on its website and had previously appeared in newspapers, television, radio and on pack inserts.
The top of the company’s website links to a variety of court-ordered statements, from the health effects and addictiveness of smoking to cigarette design to enhance delivery of nicotine.
“The tobacco industry has evolved considerably since this lawsuit was filed nearly 25 years ago, back in 1999,” a spokesperson said. “Today, Reynolds American Inc. and its operating companies have a clear purpose to build ‘A Better Tomorrow’ by reducing the health impact of our business,” saying it sells “potentially-reduced risk” nicotine and tobacco products. But vaping has been linked with an increased risk of respiratory diseases.