Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

Cigarette Box Warnings Finally Finalized

After battling for nearly two decades, cigarette makers are finally being forced to add new warning labels that reflect the outcome of the case over "low-tar" and "light" cigarettes. The 1999 case found that cigarette makers, including R.J. Reynolds and Phillip Morris, had conspired to deceive the public as to the negative health effects of smoking.

Today, it is well known that there is no such thing as a "safe cigarette," and that "light" cigarettes are not any healthier. However, when "lights" and "low-tar" varieties were released, the cigarette industry promoted these as safer, despite knowing this to be false. This case exposed the deception and ordered cigarette makers to issue corrective statements publicly in newspapers, online, on TV, and even on the packaging, about the negative health effects of smoking.

Fighting Over a Fistful of Words

The warnings that the court ordered be placed on cigarette packs included specific language that the manufacturers' lawyers have been fighting over for the last decade. Since 2006, the final ruling on the exact wording, and other requirements, were held up due to several appeals.

When push came to shove, the phrase "here is the truth" was the final sticking point. A federal appeals court ruled that by removing that phrase from the warnings, the remainder of language would be permissible. To avoid further delays in having these warnings added, the lower federal district court judge followed the appellate court's instructions and struck that phrase. In doing so, the court ordered that a specific list of corrective statements start being used immediately.

Categories of Corrective Statements

In ordering the corrective statements, the court found four separate categories where this was necessary due to the manufacturers' liability. The categories include:

  • Adverse Health Effects of Smoking
  • Addictiveness of Smoking and Nicotine
  • Lack of Significant Health Benefit from Smoking "Low Tar," "Ultra Light," "Mild," and "Natural" Cigarettes
  • Manipulation of Cigarette Design and Composition to Ensure Optimum Nicotine Delivery

Within each category, the court has ordered factual statements be made relating to the negative health effects or the deception by the manufacturers. Some statements include:

  • All cigarettes cause cancer, lung disease, heart attacks, and premature death -- lights, low tar, ultra lights, and naturals. There is no safe cigarette.
  • Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard, and Philip Morris USA intentionally designed cigarettes to make them more addictive.
  • Secondhand smoke kills over 38,000 Americans each year.
  • Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day.
  • "Low tar" and "light" cigarette smokers inhale essentially the same amount of tar and nicotine as they would from regular cigarettes.

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