The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced this week that tobacco companies in the U.S. will now be required to set up signs in retail locations stating the health risks and effects of cigarettes, following through on a corrective measure issued as part of a lawsuit filed more than 20 years ago.
In 1999, the DOJ filed a lawsuit against several major tobacco companies, accusing them of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The suit alleged that the tobacco companies had purposely misled the public on the risks of smoking for decades.
A federal judge in 2006 found the companies liable for the alleged RICO violations and ordered the defendants to issue corrective measures, stating that the companies were likely to continue violating RICO going forward without such orders.
However, the tobacco companies challenged this finding in court, delaying the implementation of the ordered measures. The initial decision was ultimately upheld and an agreement between the two parties was reached, with the corrective measures going into effect in 2017.
These corrective measures included issuing statements about the dangers of smoking tobacco in print, online and on major television networks in both English and Spanish.
The measure announced this week is the final remedy that has yet to be issued as part of this decades-long legal debacle. It affects the defendants in the case, including Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and four cigarette brands owned by ITG Brands LLC.
When reached for comment, a Reynolds Spokesperson said, “We firmly support raising public awareness of the harms of smoking cigarettes but these must respect the First Amendment protections that apply to all speakers, including manufacturers of tobacco products. We cannot comment further on pending litigation.”
Beginning on July 1, 2023, statements on the risks of smoking tobacco will be displayed on “eye-catching” signs at thousands of retail locations. As the DOJ noted in its announcement, roughly 200,000 retailers have merchandising agreements with the aforementioned tobacco companies allowing them to control how their cigarettes are displayed in-store.
The signs will include statements conveying the numerous diseases linked to tobacco, the estimated number of people who die from smoking as well as the addictive nature of cigarettes.
These signs are expected to stay up for two years, according to an agreement reached with tobacco retailers earlier in May.
“Cigarette companies misled the public for decades about the health risks of smoking and were ordered by a federal court to implement a series of corrective measures,” Brian Boynton, the principal deputy assistant attorney general, said in a statement.
“All of these measures have been implemented, except one—the display of corrective statements in retail stores that sell cigarettes. Today’s order requiring implementation of that remaining remedy is a major achievement that will educate American consumers and save lives,” Boynton added.