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December 1, 2017

Why is Big Tobacco finally running ads about smoking risks? Because it has to.

Daily Briefing

    The tobacco industry last week began a court-ordered multimedia advertising campaign stating that tobacco companies lied about the dangers of smoking and outlining the harmful effects of smoking.

    Lung cancer screening: How to get the word out and the patients in


    The statements are a requirement of a court order under a 2006 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler, who declared tobacco companies guilty of violating civil racketeering laws, intentionally misrepresenting the dangers of smoking, and improperly marketing their products to young consumers.

    Kessler in 2012 ordered the tobacco industry to run ad campaigns that:

    • Acknowledge that the industry falsely promoted "low tar" and "light" cigarettes as healthier, despite evidence that there no clear health benefits;
    • Admit that tobacco products were designed to be as addictive as possible;
    • Detail how cigarette makers defrauded the public and outline the industry's lies about the harmful effects of smoking;
    • Detail how the industry rolled out a campaign to hide the dangers of secondhand smoke; and
    • Highlight the addictive nature of nicotine.

    Under an agreement the tobacco industry reached with the Department of Justice in 2014—which scaled back the ad requirements under the order—the ad campaigns must include:

    • Corrective statements that will be printed on the outside of cigarette packages;
    • Online and full-page print ads with corrective statements in the Sunday editions of the 35 newspapers in top markets nationwide; and
    • Television spots with corrective statements that will air in primetime for one year on the United States' three major networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC.

    Ad campaigns begin, but some experts question their effectiveness

    According to the Associated Press, the tobacco industry rolled out the ad campaigns on Sunday. Television ads that are part of the campaign will air about five times each week for one year, and newspaper ads that are part of the campaign will run about five times over several months throughout the year in about 50 national daily newspapers, the AP reports.

    The advertisements feature statements that highlight the dangers of smoking, including one that states, "More people die every year from smoking than from murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes, and alcohol, combined," the AP reports. According to the AP, an advertisement also states, "Cigarette companies intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction.

    But some experts have questioned whether the campaigns will be effective.

    Ruth Malone of the University of California-San Francisco said the tobacco industry's long-fought legal battles against the court order eventually led to the ad campaigns being weaker than they would have been under the original court order. She said the industry's "legal strategy is always obstruct, delay, create confusion and buy more time," adding, "So by the time this was finally settled, newspapers have a much smaller readership, and nowadays, who watches network TV?"

    Robin Koval, president of Truth Initiative, said the ads—of which Koval saw mock-ups in court—are not engaging. Koval said, "It's black type scrolling on a white screen with the most uninteresting voice in the background" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 11/21; Boyles, MedPage Today, 11/21; Hellmann, The Hill, 11/21).

    How to get the word out about lung cancer screening

    Ten million individuals nationwide are eligible for lung screening every year—but the average program only screens about 25.

    Early adopters, however, are finding it challenging to market the program to patients and primary care providers. Download this infographic to learn how to reach them—and grow your screening program.

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