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Justice Department and big tobacco spar over proposed “corrective statement” ads

A woman lights a cigarette.
A woman lights a cigarette.
Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images

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Imagine a pack of smokes at 7/11 featuring the cool Indian Chief smoking and a label that reads: "This is Philip Morris. Just a friendly heads up: we are liars. Smoking kills and the Indian Chief on this box probably already has lung cancer." The Justice Department says cigarette manufacturers should publish similar “corrective statements” that admit they have systematically lied about the health risks of their products for years. U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler wants the industry to pay for the self-criticizing advertising, although she has not made a final decision on the exact verbiage for said statements. Philip Morris, the largest tobacco company in the United States, said the government’s proposal “goes beyond factual and scientific information,” would be “unprecedented in our legal system” and “would violate basic constitutional and statutory standards.” The Justice Department has characterized the decision as a necessary remedy to ensure the companies don't repeat past violations. It's no secret that the tobacco industry has a history of being disingenuous when it comes to the danger of its goods. But should they be forced to publicly apologize for their sins? Would this keep them honest and send the message to other industries that deliberately lying to the public will not be tolerated? Or does this punitive approach go too far?


Jacob Sullum, Senior Editor, Reason magazine and; National Columnist, Creators Syndicate; Author of For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and The Tyranny of Public Health

Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids