Public Release: 

Editorial: Use big tobacco's Nov 26 corrective statements to reduce smoking

American Thoracic Society

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IMAGE: On Nov. 26 tobacco companies must issue statements admitting that cigarette smoking kills. view more 

Credit: ATS

Nov. 15, 2017--The court-ordered publication of "corrective statements" by major U.S. tobacco companies later this month should serve as a reminder that tobacco addiction remains a major health problem in the country and that Big Tobacco has a long history of marketing practices aimed at hooking a new generation on a lethal product, according to an editorial published online in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

"Corrective Statements From the Tobacco Industry: More Evidence for Why We Need Effective Tobacco Control" recounts the legal history that led a federal court more than a decade ago to order major tobacco companies to take out advertisements in newspapers and on television that outline the scope of the health risk that cigarettes and second-hand smoke pose. After years of fighting the order in the courts, the tobacco industry will begin running these ads on Nov. 26.

Ruling in 2006 on a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice against the tobacco industry under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler wrote, "Defendants have marketed and sold their lethal produce 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."

As part of her landmark decision, Judge Kessler ordered the major tobacco companies to make corrective statements about the adverse health effects of smoking; the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine; the manipulation of cigarette ingredients to maximize nicotine delivery; the lack of health benefits from smoking light, mild, natural and other cigarette descriptors that imply less harm; and the dangers of secondhand smoke.

"All the statements draw on evidence-based findings from U.S. Surgeon General Reports on tobacco - and on knowledge that the tobacco industry long had, but intentionally deceived the public about," said Harold J. Farber, MD, MSPH, lead author of the editorial, chair of the American Thoracic Society Tobacco Action Committee and associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. "This is the first time that the tobacco companies are acknowledging the truth to the general public: tobacco is a product that is highly addictive and as a direct consequence of its design, kills people when used exactly as intended."

Among the statements that the cigarette manufacturers will be compelled to make on Nov. 26:

  • More people die every year from smoking than from murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes, and alcohol, combined.

  • Smoking also causes reduced fertility, low birth weight in newborns, and cancer of the cervix.

  • Smoking is highly addictive. Nicotine is the addictive drug in tobacco.

  • Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard, and Philip Morris USA intentionally designed cigarettes to make them more addictive.

  • When you smoke, the nicotine actually changes the brain - that's why quitting is so hard.

  • All cigarettes cause cancer, lung disease, heart attacks, and premature death - lights, low tar, ultra lights, and naturals. There is no safe cigarette.

  • Secondhand smoke causes lung cancer and coronary heart disease in adults who do not smoke.

  • Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections, ear problems, severe asthma, and reduced lung function.

  • There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

These statements are only being published in the U.S. In Southeast Asia and other parts of the world, the authors note that the tobacco industry is aggressively fighting tobacco control efforts and prohibitions against marketing to children.

"We know that efforts to tell the truth about tobacco have been effective in reducing rates of tobacco dependence," Dr. Farber said. "However, we need to go further."

The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate tobacco products in order to protect the public health. Actions that they can take now include:

  • Graphic warning labels on cigarette packages, which studies have shown decrease the number of young people who begin smoking and increase the number of smokers who want to quit.

  • Tighter constraints on tobacco marketing that reaches adolescents, including point-of-sale marketing, electronic cigarette advertising and Internet and social media advertising.

  • Restrictions on flavored tobacco products, which are attractive to young people and increase the likelihood that they will become established smokers.

Unfortunately, the FDA has fallen short on their responsibilities," Dr. Farber said. "Despite extensive evidence of harm to youth, the FDA has deferred taking action on flavored tobacco products, failed to take action to limit tobacco marketing that is accessible to youth, and has fallen short on actions to regulate or restrict tobacco products whose design attracts and addicts youth."

Still, the editorial argues that the corrective statements are a "good first step" in renewed efforts to eliminate the biggest threat to public health. "Efforts to tell the truth about tobacco have been effective in reducing rates of tobacco dependence," the authors write. They add that the "simple measures" they recommend to thwart Big Tobacco's efforts to hook young people can help to protect our children from "the grim reality of the death and disease" caused by cigarettes and other tobacco products.

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About the Annals of the American Thoracic Society (AnnalsATS)

The AnnalsATS is a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Thoracic Society. The journal delivers up-to-date and authoritative coverage of adult and pediatric pulmonary and respiratory sleep medicine and adult critical care. The scope of the journal encompasses content that is applicable to clinical practice, the formative and continuing education of clinical specialists and the advancement of public health. Editor: David Lederer, M.D., M.S., associate professor of medicine and epidemiology and associate division chief for clinical and translational research at Columbia University.

About the American Thoracic Society

Founded in 1905, the American Thoracic Society is the world's leading medical association dedicated to advancing pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine. The Society's 15,000 members prevent and fight respiratory disease around the globe through research, education, patient care and advocacy. The ATS publishes three journals, the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, the American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology and the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

The ATS will hold its 2018 International Conference, May 18-23, in San Diego, California, where world-renowned experts will share the latest scientific research and clinical advances in pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine

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