John Oliver of HBO’s Last Week Tonight continued his original episode on the tobacco industry with this response.
**UPDATE**- On Friday, May 22, a federal appeals court issued a split ruling about what statements tobacco companies must make in product warnings. The three judge panel said that tobacco companies can be required to say they “intentionally designed cigarettes to sustain addiction” but can’t be required to say that they “deliberately deceived the public about the dangers of smoking.” This ruling could further delay the public release of the warning statements. Read more about the recent case here> and read more about the history of the case below.
In 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice sued several major tobacco companies including Altria, R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard in a civil suit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for fraudulent and unlawful conduct.
In 2006, after seven years, millions of documents, and a nine month trial in which 84 witnesses testified, the U.S. federal district court issued an opinion holding the tobacco companies liable for violating RICO by, among other things, fraudulently concealing the health risks associated with smoking and for marketing their products to children. In her decision, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler found that “defendants have engaged in an overarching scheme to defraud smokers and potential smokers for more than 50 years…”
As part of the decision, the court ordered tobacco corporations to produce and release “corrective statements.” These statements, which would appear in newspapers, on TV, in retail displays, on websites and on cigarette packs, include corrective statements about the adverse health effects of smoking and second hand smoke, statements about addiction, and statements about the manipulation by tobacco companies of the designs of cigarettes. The tobacco companies filed an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals. In May 2009, the court unanimously upheld Judge Kessler’s decision, with a few modifications to the remedies.
It’s now 2015, and the tobacco corporations are still fighting this mandate. Just last month the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard oral arguments in which the companies are asking the appeals court to set aside the corrective statements and craft new ones. The companies say that the preamble to the ads which states “A federal court has ruled that Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard and Philip Morris USA deliberately deceived the American public,” is overly broad and misleading. However, it is clear from the most recent Surgeon General’s Report and the RICO trial that tobacco corporations have misled the American public. You can see many of these documents in the Tobacco Documents Library.
Tobacco corporations continue to manufacture market and sell a product that will kill millions. Those same corporations use the court system to delay corrective statements which could save lives. It’s clear that civil litigation alone is not enough to deter tobacco corporations and their executives.
If you are interested in following the case, it is case 13-5028, U.S. versus Philip Morris USA.
The absence of smoking on commercial airliners is something we all now take for granted. But it wasn’t always that way. The ban on smoking was the culmination of years of effort by many individuals and public health organizations fighting an industry that had held sway in the US Congress seemingly forever.
About a year ago I attended a book signing by Congressman John Lewis and was last in a long line of people waiting for his autograph. The book was “March: Book One” which tells the story of the congressman’s life-long involvement in the struggle for civil rights. But as I presented my copy of the book, I thanked him for his role in another, perhaps less momentous struggle, but one that affected the health of millions of Americans, the ban on smoking on airlines. I told him that I had appeared before his committee in October 1987 when Congress considered a ban on smoking on flights shorter than two hours.
“I will never forget that hearing,” he exclaimed “it was the longest in the history of the US Congress!” It was indeed after midnight when I finally got my chance to speak. That limited ban was approved and two years later, in June 1989, I again testified before the House Subcommittee on Aviation chaired by Congressman James Oberstar. This time we asked for a complete ban on smoking on all airline flights, regardless of duration. And twenty –five years ago that ban went into effect.
For ASH and the public health community, the twenty-fifth anniversary is a cause for celebration but not for resting on our laurels; rather it ought to be a call to action. Far too many youngsters are still enticed into a life of addiction to tobacco, far too many people still do not work in a smoke-free environment and far too many people still suffer the terrible consequences of tobacco use.
Our job is not done until the last cigarette has been extinguished, until the lure of nicotine is something of the past, like smoking on airplanes.
Alfred Munzer, MD
Chair, Action on Smoking and Health
One of the world’s largest tobacco firms has told the Government to immediately halt plain packaging legislation in the Dáil or face a High Court claim for damages.
JTI Ireland, owner of the Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut brands, has told Ministers James Reilly and Leo Varadkar that it will take legal action if they fail to promise by Friday that no further steps will be taken to enact the draft law.
Comedian John Oliver took on Philip Morris International (PMI) Sunday night on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.” ASH Policy Director Chris Bostic was privileged to see the taping in person. It is a hilarious and poignant piece, and the PR folks at PMI must have woken up dazed and confused today.
Oliver focused his attention on the tobacco industry’s use of litigation and the threat of litigation to bully governments away from aggressive anti-tobacco policies. One memorable bit came after Oliver revealed how PMI purchased a new subsidiary to take advantage of an obscure Hong Kong-Australia bilateral investment treaty in order to sue the latter over its plain packaging law. Oliver congratulated PMI’s attorneys for their cleverness, saying they deserved a “Pat on the back; then a punch in the gut. A pat-punch, pat-punch.”
The highlight of the show comes at the end, when Oliver tries to come up with a compromise to allow governments to dissuade people from smoking while allowing PMI to market its brands. He then trots out “Jeff, the cowboy hat-wearing diseased lung,” an actual mascot who comes on stage to dance with a group of schoolchildren. John also shows videos of Jeff ads that were placed in Montivideo, Uruguay and locals wearing Jeff t-shirts in Togo, two countries that have also been recipients of PMI’s bullying tactics.
The Twitter hashtag #JeffWeCan trended to number one in just a few minutes as thousands of people around the world took up the call to action.
Thank you, John Oliver, for calling attention to the tobacco industry’s deadly, thugish tactics.
Keep sharing #JeffWeCan across all social media platforms.
In the past few years, several localities have increased the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21. The first to increase the minimum sales age to 21 was Needham, MA, a suburb of Boston, in 2005. Following implementation of the law, smoking rates among Needham high-school students dropped almost in half between 2006 and 2010, far outpacing the decline in surrounding communities. Read more here>.
Several other localities have also increased the minimum age to 21. Recently, New York City became the largest jurisdiction by population to raise the age, and new age limits of 21 were recently approved in Suffolk County, NY and Hawaii County, HI.
Several states have also taken action. Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey, and Utah have increased their state minimum legal sale age for tobacco to 19. This work has paid off. Utah has the lowest smoking rate in the country (12.2% of the population). Alaska and New Jersey’s rates are below the national average. Notably, Alaska is the state with the most improved smoking rate, down 6.5% since 2008. Read more about smoking rates here>.
Increasing the minimum legal age for tobacco products is important because the most recent data shows that the tobacco industry spent more than $1 million a day targeting young adults (ages 18 to 21) through a variety of marketing activities—such as music and sporting events, bar promotions, college marketing programs, college scholarships, and parties—because they know it is a critical time period for solidifying a tobacco addiction. Clearly, this tactic works -almost 40% of smokers either began smoking (11.0%) or became regular smokers (28.0%) during this key age range. Read more here>and here>. For more information about how the tobacco industry targets kids and young adults, watch our video here>.
In a confidential memo, a Philip Morris strategist once wrote, “Raising the legal minimum age for cigarette purchase to 21 could gut our key young-adult market (17-20).” From the examples shown by Needham, MA and by the states that have raised the age of purchase by even just one year, this appears to be very true.
Increasing the legal minimum age for cigarette purchase is an effective way to decrease smoking rates.
Which state will be the first to take this monumental step towards protecting their youth? Is your state considering raising the minimum age?
Stay up to date on the latest cities and states taking action, by visiting Tobacco 21>
***As of April 24, 2015, the Hawaii legislature has passed legislation that will make it the first state to increase the minimum legal age for tobacco purchase 21. The bill is now headed to the Governor. Congratulations to Hawaii and we hope that other states will follow suit!” See here>***
“Health must become a priority. The time is now,” said global tobacco control advocates in the Framework Convention Alliance video. They emphasize the importance of this year, 2015, and that leaders must raise their ambitions for humanity. They also encourage the general public to stand up and speak out.
The global tobacco control community created this video for the Action/2015 campaign that launched on January 15th, 2015 and runs through September.
The Action/2015 campaign promotes ambitious global goals to target poverty, inequality, environmental destruction, and human development.
In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly will finalize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will replace the Millennium Development Goals, expiring this year. These new goals will set national development agendas for the next 15 years and beyond.
The tobacco control community aims to ensure the inclusion of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in the SDGs as one of the best methods to improve global health.
Health is a major part of sustainable development and must be highlighted in the post-2015 development agenda. Tobacco is the world’s leading cause of preventable death, killing over 6 million people a year. In the 20th century alone, tobacco use killed 100 million people. If we don’t take action, tobacco will kill 1 billion people this century. The majority of those projected deaths will occur in low and middle-income countries, now a main target of the tobacco industry, which has shifted its efforts as smoking rates have fallen in the developed world.
Governments can prevent these hundreds of millions of premature tobacco-related deaths by implementing the FCTC. The FCTC has 180 Parties, representing nearly 90% of the world’s population. This unique public health treaty includes low-cost policy measures that are proven to decrease tobacco use. Implementing the FCTC is globally recognized as the best of the “best buys” for tackling the fast-rising epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which cause nearly 2/3 of global deaths.
Specifically, the FCTC’s measures include raising tobacco taxes, a win-win solution for health, development, and governments. Higher taxes lead to reduced tobacco consumption, in turn cutting the damage, disease, and death caused by tobacco use. Increased tobacco taxes would also generate revenue for cash-strapped governments.
If you are interested in getting involved, please contact Shana Narula, Campaign Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please consider supporting ASH’s work on the post-2015 development agenda by clicking here.
For more information:
Why charities should not let Big Tobacco use them for marketing.
Earlier this month, a journalist caused a stir among health charities by publicizing the fact that the American Red Cross accepts donations from the tobacco industry and allows the Red Cross symbol to be used on industry websites and vice-versa.
The immediate conversation is the tarnishing of the well-earned positive reputation of the Red Cross, which no doubt uses the money for good. The broader conversation is whether it is ever acceptable for a charity to accept voluntary donations from the tobacco industry.
For us here at ASH, and for many of our partners around the globe, the answer is a resounding “NO”. But people of good conscience can legitimately ask why. Why not use this ill-begotten money to do some good?
Here is the short answer: because it kills people. That is a bit glib, but let me explain.
The tobacco industry does not give to charity out of the goodness of its heart. If they had any heart at all, they would immediately cease their activities, since their products kill half of their long-term customers. For tobacco companies like Altria, donations are a part of marketing.
Altria and other cigarette makers know they have a lousy reputation. Boasting about their charitable giving introduces another side to the story, making it seem less black and white.
It gives cover to tobacco-friendly politicians, increasing the chances that tobacco industries get a seat at the table when health policy is discussed. And, in a world that is increasingly banning traditional forms of tobacco advertising, it is another way to get their name and brand out there, often in association with “good” organizations.
The “vector” of the global tobacco epidemic is the tobacco industry, and the way the disease is spread is through marketing. When a charity accepts tobacco money, it assists with tobacco marketing, and therefore helps spread the disease.
The incompatibility of tobacco money and the public interest has been widely recognized.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies stopped accepting tobacco donations years ago, and most national branches have followed suit. The World Health Organization and the United Nations agree. And this is a key aspect of the legally-binding WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
The only time that money acquired through selling tobacco can be used for good is when that money has been taken from tobacco companies against their will, whether through taxes, fines, or legal settlements.