GUEST COLUMN: Fight back against tobacco company propaganda

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By Theresa Zubretsky
For The Daily Gazette

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

That’s just one of seventeen court-ordered statements these tobacco giants are required to post by September 30 in tobacco retail stores with which they have an active contract.

Over the ensuing 21 months, signage messaging will rotate to include factual information about the health harms caused by smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, and the ways in which these companies manipulated cigarette design and composition to ensure optimum nicotine delivery.

Posting these signs is the last of several remedial actions set forth in a historic federal court ruling forcing these companies to tell the truth about their deadly products.

In 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler didn’t mince words in her adjudication of United States v. Philip Morris: “Over the course of more than 50 years, Defendants lied, misrepresented, and deceived the American public, including smokers and the young people they avidly sought as ‘replacement smokers,’ about the devastating health effects of smoking.”

The tobacco companies have waged a long legal battle to weaken and delay all the corrective measures outlined in the ruling, including fighting for more than 16 years against the requirement to post the corrective statements in stores. Sixteen years.

Time enough for their products to addict an entirely new generation.

Legally requiring the tobacco companies to make these public statements brings a long overdue end to their decades-long campaign to hide a central truth about their product: When used as intended, tobacco will kill half of all users.

Judge Kessler was limited in the remedies she could impose on the tobacco industry under the civil racketeering laws germane to the federal case.

There remain countless ways for tobacco companies to circumvent existing laws and regulation and they exploit every loophole and seek every workaround.

Recently, when a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products including menthol cigarettes went into effect in California, RJ Reynolds launched a campaign to introduce cigarettes containing synthetic chemicals that mimic the cooling effect of menthol, effectively undermining the public health benefit of the law.

In many states, tobacco companies undermine the positive public health benefits of tobacco taxes by ramping up the availability of coupons and discounts to keep prices more affordable for consumers. Fortunately, New York state disallows the use of coupons and discounts.

Tobacco companies have led successful efforts in all 50 states to defeat proposed legislation to restrict public smoking, raise tobacco taxes, limit tobacco marketing, and reduce youth access to tobacco.

New York’s unsuccessful effort to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol, was one of the most recent casualties of tobacco industry interference.

When new laws do get passed, tobacco companies routinely file lawsuits to quash or delay implementation.

The corrective statements that will be popping up in local tobacco retail stores represent a victory for public health.

They will help educate the community.

They will help dispel misinformation that may influence smokers’ choices.

They will be a public reminder of the industry’s legacy of duplicity.

But have no doubt that the tobacco industry will continue to thwart public health efforts in pursuit of profits.

Communities need to be even more tactical and tenacious in pursuing tobacco control policies that value people and save lives.

Theresa Zubretsky is community engagement coordinator for the Capital District Tobacco-Free Communities, which serves Albany, Rensselaer and Schenectady counties.

Categories: Guest Column, Opinion

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