Judge orders tobacco companies to admit deception
WASHINGTON - Major tobacco companies that spent decades denying they lied to the public about the dangers of cigarettes must spend their own money on a public advertising campaign saying they did lie, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.
The ruling sets out what might be the harshest sanction to come out of a historic case that the Justice Department brought in 1999 accusing the tobacco companies of racketeering.
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.
Details of the campaign - like how much it will cost and which media will be involved - are still to be determined and could lead to another prolonged fight.
Kessler's ruling on Tuesday, which the companies could try to appeal, aims to finalize the wording of five different statements the companies will be required to use.
One of them 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 wording was applauded by health advocates who have waited years for tangible results from the case.
"Requiring the tobacco companies to finally tell the truth is a small price to pay for the devastating consequences of their wrongdoing," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an anti-tobacco group in Washington.
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