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State of Tobacco Control 2019

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 more than 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 judgment 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.

And, finally, after many years of delay the tobacco companies were required to issue the "corrective statements" in newspapers and on TV in 2017 and 2018 that were originally ordered by Judge Kessler's decision. Subsequent court decisions in 2018 also required "corrective statements" on tobacco company websites and on cigarettes packs. 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."


    Page Last Updated: January 29, 2019


    Did You Know?

    1. More than 27 percent of high school students in the U.S. use at least one tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, according to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
    2. 7.2 percent of middle school students use at least one tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, according to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
    3. From 2017 to 2018, high school e-cigarette use increased by 78 percent and middle school e-cigarette use increased by close to 50 percent in the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
    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 virtually all public places and workplaces, including restaurants and bars smokefree.
    7. The District of Columbia has the highest cigarette tax in the country at $4.50 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 $1.78 per pack.
    10. Three states – Connecticut, Tennessee and West Virginia – spend no state dollars at all tobacco prevention programs.
    11. No state is funding its tobacco control programs at or above the CDC-recommended level (in Fiscal Year 2019).
    12. Kentucky, Oklahoma and the District of Columbia increased their cigarette taxes in 2018.
    13. No state approved a comprehensive smokefree workplace law in 2018.
    14. 12 states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon and South Carolina– 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 median amount states invest in quitlines is $2.21 per smoker in the state.
    16. Massachusetts passed legislation increasing its minimum sales age for tobacco products to 21 in 2018.
    17. Six states, the District of Columbia and over 350 communities have passed Tobacco 21 laws.
    18. Nationwide, the Medicaid program spends more than $39.6 billion in healthcare costs for smoking-related diseases each year – more than 15.2 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. 43 states and the District of Columbia spend less than half of what the CDC recommends on their state tobacco prevention programs.
    22. States spend less than three cents of every dollar of the $27.3 billion they get from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes to fight tobacco use.
    23. Each day, more than 2,000 kids under 18 try their first cigarette and more than 300 kids become new, regular smokers.
    24. Each day, more than 1,900 kids try their first cigar. On average, more than 80 kids try their first cigar every hour in the United States – equaling about 712,000 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 2016.
    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 2017 study found that states which expanded Medicaid had a 36 percent increase in the number of tobacco cessation medication prescriptions relative to the states that did not expand Medicaid. This means more quit attempts with proven cessation treatments are being made. 
    31. In 2018, three states, Idaho, Nebraska and Utah, voted to expand their Medicaid coverage, providing more smokers with access to tobacco cessation treatments.
    32. Uninsured Americans smoke at a rate more than two times higher than people with private insurance.
    33. An estimated one-third of Americans living in public housing smoke.
    34. Persons with mental illness consume close to 40 percent of all cigarettes in the U.S.
    35. Native Americans and Alaska Natives have the highest smoking rates among any racial/ethnic group.
    Get more facts »

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