WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tobacco companies scored a partial victory over corrective statements in a federal appeals court.
Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that tobacco companies must inform smokers that cigarettes were designed to increase addiction. However, they do not have to say they lied to the public about the dangers of smoking, according to The Associated Press.
The appeals court ruled that the language must focus on preventing future violations, not past misconduct. Writing for the three-judge panel, Judge David Tatel said the preamble language in the ads about past deception went beyond the remedies allowed under federal racketeering laws, the news outlet reported.
However, Tatel said other language in the ads that stated the companies intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine "to create and sustain addiction" was within the bounds of the law. The appeals court also approved statements that said the companies "intentionally designed cigarettes to make them more addictive."
The May 22 ruling is part of a legal battle dating back in the Clinton 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.
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.
In January 2014, Richmond, Va.-based The Altria Group Inc., Greensboro, N.C.-based Lorillard Inc. and Winston-Sale, N.C.-based Reynolds American Inc. agreed to publish the corrective statements, but objected to the wording.
Under that 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, as CSNews Online reported at the time.
According to the AP, the tobacco companies called that statement overbroad and misleading. But government lawyers argued that the language was meant to provide context for the public.
The case now goes back to the district court for further proceedings.