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The Gavel that Unraveled the Tobacco Industry: 10 of the Most Appalling Facts about Tobacco Company Misdeeds from the Famous Federal Court Ruling

Gavel strikes down big tobacco

It's been 10 years since federal judge Gladys Kessler found the major tobacco companies—including Altria (Philip Morris) and RJ Reynolds—guilty on civil racketeering charges (i.e., organized criminal activity). On August 17, 2006, she issued a final judgement and 1,683 page opinion that found the companies had been covering up the health risks associated with smoking and marketing their products to children for decades. Here are 10 of the most troubling facts the judge found in her ruling against these tobacco companies: 

10. The tobacco companies "concealed and suppressed research data and other evidence that nicotine is addictive."

9. The tobacco companies "falsely marketed and promoted low tar/light cigarettes as less harmful than full-flavor cigarettes in order to keep people smoking and sustain corporate revenues."

8. The tobacco companies own internal records showed "that smokers switch to low tar/light cigarettes, rather than quit smoking, because they believe they are less harmful."

7. The tobacco companies "recognized that smokers choose light/low tar cigarettes for a perceived health benefit defendants internally recognized that smokers rely on the claims made for low tar/light cigarettes as an excuse/ rationale for not quitting smoking."

Quote from Judge Kessler in 2006 big tobacco ruling.

6. Starting in the 1950s and lasting at least through 2006, different tobacco companies "at different times and using different methods, have intentionally marketed to young people under the age of twenty-one in order to recruit ‘replacement smokers' to ensure the economic future of the tobacco industry."

5. The tobacco companies "youth smoking prevention programs are not designed to effectively prevent youth smoking."

4. The tobacco companies "have publicly denied what they internally acknowledged: that ETS [secondhand smoke] is hazardous to nonsmokers."

3. The tobacco companies' internal records "recognized that ETS (secondhand smoke) is hazardous to nonsmokers."

2. The tobacco companies' "marketing is a substantial contributing factor to youth smoking initiation."

1. "[This case] is about an industry, and in particular these [tobacco companies], that survives, and profits, from selling a highly addictive product which causes diseases that lead to a staggering number of deaths per year, an immeasurable amount of human suffering and economic loss, and a profound burden on our national health care system. [The tobacco companies] have known many of these facts for at least 50 years or more. Despite that knowledge, they have consistently, repeatedly and with enormous skill and sophistication, denied these facts to the public, the Government, and to the public health community."

While the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the racketeering conviction against the industry in 2009, the convicted companies continue to delay and appeal the remedies ordered by the court to this day. In 2016, Judge Kessler rebuked the tobacco companies for their continued attempts to delay finalization of the "corrective statements"—court-ordered ads the tobacco companies would be required to run on TV, radio, in newspapers and online—aimed at correcting the industry's deceptive and misleading statements made to the public over decades of marketing.



    Did You Know?

    1. More than 1 in 4 high school students in the U.S. use at least one tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, according to the 2015 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
    2. 7.4 percent of middle school students use at least one tobacco product, including e-cigarettes.
    3. A 2014 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that about 8 million lives have been saved through tobacco control efforts since 1964, including 800,000 lung cancer deaths between 1975 and 2000.
    4. Smoking is the number one preventable cause of death in the U.S., killing over 480,000 people per year.
    5. Secondhand smoke kills more than 41,000 people in the U.S. each year.
    6. 28 states and Washington D.C. have passed laws making almost all public places and workplaces, including restaurants and bars smokefree.
    7. New York has the highest cigarette tax in the country at $4.35 per pack.
    8. Missouri has the lowest cigarette tax in the country at 17 cents per pack.
    9. The average of all states plus the District of Columbia's cigarette taxes are $1.65 per pack.
    10. Eight states have taxes on other tobacco products equivalent to their state's cigarette taxes.
    11. Alaska and North Dakota are the only states that are funding their tobacco control programs at or above the CDC-recommended level (in Fiscal Year 2017).
    12. Four states increased their cigarette taxes in 2016.
    13. No state approved a comprehensive smokefree workplace law in 2016.
    14. 8 states – California, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Dakota and Ohio – offer a comprehensive cessation benefit to tobacco users on Medicaid.
    15. Each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia provide tobacco quitlines, a phone number for quit smoking phone counseling. The average amount states invest in quitlines is $3.46 per smoker in the state.
    16. California and the District of Columbia passed legislation increasing their minimum sales ages for tobacco products to 21 in 2016.
    17. California, Hawaii and over 200 communities in 14 different states have passed Tobacco 21 laws.
    18. Nationwide, the Medicaid program spends more than $22 billion in healthcare costs for smoking-related diseases each year – more than 11 percent of total Medicaid spending.
    19. In 2009, the American Lung Association played a key role in the passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products.
    20. The American Lung Association played a key role in airplanes becoming smokefree in the 1990s.
    21. 41 states and Washington D.C. spend less than half of what the CDC recommends on their state tobacco prevention programs.
    22. States spend less than two cents of every dollar they get from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes to fight tobacco use.
    23. Each day, close to 2,500 kids under 18 try their first cigarette and about 400 kids become new, regular smokers.
    24. Each day, more than 2,100 kids try their first cigar. On average, close to 90 kids try their first cigar every hour in the United States – equaling more than 780,000 every year.
    25. Smoking costs the U.S. economy over $332 billion in direct health care costs and lost productivity every year.
    26. The five largest cigarette companies spent over $23 million dollars per day marketing their products in 2014.
    27. Secondhand smoke causes $5.6 billion in lost productivity in the U.S. each year.
    28. Smoking rates are over twice as high for Medicaid recipients compared to those with private insurance.
    29. A 2013 study of California's tobacco prevention program shows that the state saved $55 in healthcare costs for every $1 invested from 1989 to 2008.
    30. A 2012 study of Massachusetts' comprehensive Medicaid quit smoking benefit found that Massachusetts saved $3 for every $1 spent helping smokers quit in just over a year.
    31. Missouri became the first state to eliminate all barriers to receiving tobacco cessation treatments for its Medicaid enrollees.
    Get more facts »
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