Let that sink in for a minute…smoking kills more people every year than murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes, and alcohol combined.
That’s pretty shocking. But perhaps even more shocking is who’s paying for the new ad campaign promoting that message: Big Tobacco.
Yep, you read that right. As ABC News explained, “Decades after they were banned from the airwaves, Big Tobacco companies return[ed] to prime-time television this weekend — but not by choice.”
“Under court order, the tobacco industry for the first time will be forced to advertise the deadly, addictive effects of smoking, more than 11 years after a judge ruled that the companies had misled the public about the dangers of cigarettes,” ABC News continued.
Big Tobacco 'Lied, Misrepresented and Deceived the American Public'The journey began in 1999 with a lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice during President Bill Clinton’s administration. The objective was for the federal government to recoup at least some portion of the billions it’s spent on health care and other costs for people with smoking-related illnesses.
In 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler issued what Upworthy labeled a “scathing ruling” against Big Tobacco, finding that cigarette companies had “lied, misrepresented and deceived the American public” about the consequences of smoking for more than half a century.
As a result, Altria Group, owner of Philip Morris USA, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., were ordered to display so-called “corrective statements” in their advertisements.
'Justice Has Been Served'If the court order was issued in 2006, why is the ad campaign just now launching? Well, it took more than a decade for all appeals to be resolved and for an agreement to be reached on the precise wording of the “corrective statements.”
The result of all those deliberations is a 45-second spot that states, rather bluntly, the dangers of smoking.
In addition to the “more than …combined” statement that opens this article, the commercial explains, “Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day.”
“Smoking causes heart disease, emphysema, acute myeloid leukemia, and cancer of the mouth, esophagus, larynx, lung, stomach, kidney, bladder, and pancreas,” continues the ad. “Smoking also causes reduced fertility, low birth weight in newborns, and cancer of the cervix.”
As part of the legally-required ad campaign, which will cost tobacco companies an estimated $30 million, the commercial will be broadcast on NBC, ABC, and CBS five times per week for a year.
In addition, full-page ads like the one below will run once per week in 50 major newspapers across the country.
Starting today, tobacco companies are running court-ordered "corrective statements" in newspapers and on TV, including a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal. Background from @maloneyfiles: https://t.co/P1t9VjlVhS pic.twitter.com/or08T47NYD— Cara Lombardo (@CaraRLombardo) November 24, 2017
As an Upworthy article about the new ad campaign put it, “Justice has finally been served to Big Tobacco in the U.S.”
Will the Ads Make a Difference?Not everyone is so sure, though, that the ad campaign reflects justice being served.
According to Ruth Malone, an expert at the University of California, San Francisco, “[Big Tobacco’s] legal strategy is always obstruct, delay, create confusion and buy more time.”
“So by the time this was finally settled,” she continued, “newspapers have a much smaller readership, and nowadays, who watches network TV?”
The data supports Malone’s comments.
“Nine of 10 smokers begin smoking before age 18, which is why most prevention efforts focus on teenagers. Yet less than 5 percent of today's network TV viewers are under 25,” explained ABC News.
Indeed, as many of our own readers can attest, during the 11 years that lawyers were arguing over the exact specifications of the campaign’s TV commercials, more and more Americans were turning off the tube and signing onto social media sites and streaming services like Netflix and Hulu instead.
In addition to concerns about the method of delivery, anti-tobacco advocates have called attention to the bland design of both the TV and newspaper ads.
"It's black type scrolling on a white screen with the most uninteresting voice in the background," complained Robin Koval, president of Truth Initiative, a non-profit organization “dedicated to making tobacco use a thing of the past.”
Ellie Mixter-Keller, who overcame a pack-a-day habit after 30 years of smoking, agreed with Koval’s assessment.
“They weren't very compelling ads,” admitted the 62-year-old, who has now been cigarette-free for 12 years. “I just don't know if I would have cared about any of that [when I was still smoking].”
We’d love to hear your thoughts on Big Tobacco’s legally-mandated anti-smoking campaign. Do the ads represent “justice being served”? Or are they too little, too late?