According to Vox, the tobacco companies are finally being forced by a federal court to follow through with the 2006 ruling by US District Judge Gladys Kessle that the companies pay for ads on national television and in newspapers admitting not only the dangers of smoking but also that they tried to make smoking more addictive, among other confessions.
For 11 years, Big Tobacco has dragged its feet on complying with the ruling, filing appeals and employing other delays. The strategy of “deny, deny, deny” feels familiar.
There have so far been seven completed talc trials in three states, with six plaintiff wins and damages of $724 million. These juries have all demanded that Johnson and Johnson warn consumers that prolonged genital use of its talc products increases risk of ovarian cancer.
Evidence presented at trials shows Johnson and Johnson knew for decades of the growing number of scientific studies linking talc to ovarian cancer but chose not to warn women or switch to the safe cornstarch alternative it already manufactured and sold. The company itself had been warned quite boldly of the impact that ignoring this evidence could have on its business, if the impact it would have on consumer health wasn’t enough to motivate the company to action.
A 1997 memo from Johnson and Johnson’s paid medical consultant to the company’s preclinical toxicology manager clearly advised the company against denying talc’s risk and warned the company that it could face unfavorable comparisons to the cigarette industry.
“At that time there had been about nine studies (more by now) published in the open literature that did show a statistically significant association between hygienic talc use and ovarian cancer. Anybody who denies this risks that the talc industry will be perceived by the public like it perceives the cigarette industry: denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary,” the memo reads.
But Johnson and Johnson’s response to the juries’ indictment of its actions, clearly expressed through large punitive damages, has been to continue to deny responsibility and pursue appeals.
The tobacco industry used a similar strategy.
“Employing the highest paid lawyers in America, the tobacco companies used every tool at their disposal to delay and complicate this litigation to avoid their day of reckoning,” said the American Cancer Society’s Cliff Douglas, according to NBC News.
But now the chickens have finally come home to roost. The advertising campaign by Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard, and Philip Morris USA will run for an entire year on all major networks and in more than 50 newspapers.
The ads, which have already begun running, are required to be aired during primetime and at least five times a week. They will include shocking information such as the fact that smoking kills more people than die from murder, HIV/AIDS, suicide, car crashes, drug overdoses, and alcohol combined; that smoking kills 1,200 people a day; the tobacco companies worked to make their product as addictive as possible; and there is no such thing as a safer cigarette.
Vox reports that although the information about smoking that is being presented may be shocking, it is being presented in boring simple text using a robotic voice that may reduce impact, and it is a long time coming. In the 11 years the tobacco companies delayed the way people receive their news has significantly changed, with most people using digital sources.
“Despite their claims to the contrary, the tobacco companies have not changed. Their continuing aversion to the truth is clear from how hard they fought the corrective statements, going so far as to seek removal of the phrase ‘here is the truth,'” the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, National African American Tobacco Prevention Network and the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund said in a joint statement reported by NBC News.
“The ads will finally run after 11 years of appeals by the tobacco companies aimed at delaying and weakening them,” the health groups said in their joint statement. “It’s a pretty significant moment,”said Douglas. “This is the first time they have had to ‘fess up and tell the whole truth.”