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Should Tobacco Marketing be Illegal?

This January marked the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon’s General report on Smoking and Health. On that anniversary, a new Surgeon General’s report, The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress, was released. Read the report here> That report indicates that since the first report in 1964, more than 20 million premature deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to cigarette smoking.

The report focuses on a myriad of tobacco issues, but one topic keeps recurring: marketing. Thousands of tobacco-related deaths can be tied to marketing by tobacco companies.

For example, the report concludes, “The tobacco epidemic was initiated and has been sustained by the aggressive strategies of the tobacco industry, which has deliberately misled the public on the risks of smoking cigarettes.”

In the 50 years since the first Surgeon General’s report came out, a lot has changed. However, tobacco companies are still marketing cigarettes and cigarettes are still killing over 440,000 Americans each year.

What else can be done?

Maybe the answer lies in criminal liability for these marketing schemes, an idea that is not without precedent. In Williams v. Philip Morris, the Oregon Supreme Court described the tobacco industry’s history of marketing and promotional schemes as “extraordinarily reprehensible,” emphasizing the criminal implications of the harms caused by this industry’s actions. Read the case here>

Additionally, the Oregon Supreme Court discussed the “the possibility of severe criminal sanctions, both for the individual who participated and for the corporation generally,” as a result of aggressive and deceptive promotion of dangerous tobacco products. Perhaps if Big Tobacco is subject to criminal liability for their marketing, we will have a smoke-free society by 2064 – the 100th anniversary of the Surgeon General’s report.

Could criminal liability be the way to end Big Tobacco cigarette marketing?

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