Despite Agreement, Tobacco Cos. to Appeal Corrective Statements Ruling

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Two weeks after agreeing to publish court-mandated corrective statements, tobacco companies are now saying the advertising blitz may have to wait.

At a hearing in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, lawyers for the tobacco companies said they plan to move forward with an appeal about the wording of the ads, according to Reuters.

As CSNews Online previously reported, the nation's tobacco companies and the Justice Department reached an agreement on publishing corrective statements that say the companies lied about the dangers of smoking and requires them to disclose smoking's health effects.

Under the Jan. 10 agreement, each of the companies must publish full-page ads in the Sunday editions of 35 newspapers and air prime-time TV commercials on CBS, ABC or NBC five times per week for a year. The companies must also publish the statements on their websites and affix them to cigarette packs. The agreement also details what statements will be published on tobacco company websites and affixed to cigarette packs.

The fight over corrective statements has its roots in President Bill Clinton's administration. In 1999, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against tobacco companies alleging that the cigarette makers engaged in racketeering by hiding from the public the health consequences of tobacco use, according to Reuters.

Tobacco companies fought the allegations through their own lawsuit and subsequent appeals, and ultimately the parties came to an agreement on the corrective statements. On Nov. 27, 2012, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the tobacco companies to feature the overarching statement: "A federal court has ruled that the defendant tobacco companies deliberately deceived the American public about the health effects of smoking, and has ordered those companies to make this statement," as CSNews Online previously reported.

However, defendants The Altria Group Inc., Lorillard Inc. and Reynolds American Inc. (RAI) argued that the proposed wording of the ads would violate their free speech rights. Now, as Reuters reported, Kessler said Wednesday the latest appeal would likely delay the court-mandated ads until 2015 or later.

"I'm of course concerned about the delays," Kessler told lawyers at the hearing. "The bottom line is the public is not getting what I would consider to be the benefit of the corrective statements."

The next step is for Kessler to approve the logistics of the proposed ad campaign. Once she approves that, a federal appeals court in Washington is expected to take up the speech question and make a ruling perhaps in 2015, according to an estimate Kessler made in court this week.

"It will take some time, your honor, but I think that reflects the weightiness of the issues at stake," Noel Francisco, a partner at the law firm Jones Day who represents RAI, told the judge.

A further appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court by whoever loses on the speech question "seems entirely possible," Justice Department lawyer Daniel Crane-Hirsch said.

Crane-Hirsch and tobacco lawyers warned Kessler the process could take even longer if she were to modify the logistics of the ad campaign that they have hammered out. Fox Broadcasting Co. and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, for example, have filed court papers asking that some of the ads go on their networks.

Separately, the sides are still arguing over how tobacco companies should change their advertising at the point-of-sale, according to the news outlet.

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