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Tobacco Cos. Must Admit Deception on Products, Ads

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Major tobacco companies have been ordered by a federal judge to admit they lied about the dangers of cigarettes -- and use their own money to pay for the public advertising campaign.

The ruling sets out what might be the harshest sanction to come out of a case that the Justice Department brought in 1999 accusing the tobacco companies of racketeering, according to Reuters.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler wrote that the new advertising campaign would be an appropriate counterweight to the companies' "past deception" dating to at least 1964. The advertisements are to be published in various media for as long as two years.

The tobacco companies could appeal Tuesday's ruling. The details of the ads, including the costs and which media will be involved, are still being worked. Once determined, the details could lead to another prolonged fight, the news agency reported.

In her ruling, Kessler looked to finalize the wording of five different statements the companies will be required to use. For example, one statement begins: "A federal court has ruled that the defendant tobacco companies deliberately deceived the American public by falsely selling and advertising low tar and light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes."

Another statement includes the wording: "Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day."

The largest cigarette companies in the United States spent $8.05 billion in 2010 to advertise and promote their products, down from $12.5 billion in 2006, according to a report issued in September by the Federal Trade Commission.

"We are reviewing the judge's ruling and considering next steps," Bryan Hatchell, a spokesman for Reynolds American Inc., told Reuters. Philip Morris USA, a unit of Altria Group Inc, is studying the decision, a spokesman said.

A spokesman for a third major defendant, Lorillard Inc., had no immediate comment.

Kessler's ruling considered whether the advertising campaign, known as corrective statements, would violate the companies' rights, given that the companies never agreed with her 2006 decision that they violated racketeering law. However, she concluded the statements were allowed because the final wording is "purely factual" and not controversial.

In August 2006, Kessler found that cigarette makers needed to be punished for deceiving the public about the dangers of smoking, as CSNews Online previously reported. Her ruling came at the conclusion of a nine-month trial. The ruling also ordered tobacco companies to stop labeling cigarettes as "low tar," "light," "natural" or any other "deceptive brand descriptors which implicitly or explicitly convey to the smoker and the potential smoker that they are less hazardous to health than full-flavor cigarettes.


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