Health and Science

Tobacco companies' websites to post court-ordered warnings

Key Points
  • Cigarette manufacturers' websites will feature statements about the health effects and addictive nature of smoking and nicotine.
  • The corrective statements are part of the 2006 federal court decision that found that cigarette manufacturers engaged in racketeering.
  • Tobacco companies have also been required to pay for a TV campaign about the risks of smoking.

Starting Monday, tobacco companies are supposed to have statements on their websites that warn American consumers about the health risks and addictiveness of their products.

The statements were ordered May 1 as part of a 2006 federal court decision that found the major cigarette manufacturers, including R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris, had defrauded the public about the health risks of their products.

The so-called corrective statements on their websites, as well as the websites of their cigarette brands, will address five topics: smoking's health effects, the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine, the lack of any benefits from cigarettes labeled "low tar" and "light," how the delivery of nicotine was enhanced by cigarette design and secondhand smoke's health effects. The statements will also be available in Spanish.

The companies affected are Philip Morris USA and its parent company Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Lorillard, now owned by Reynolds American.

"This industry has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, including becoming regulated by the FDA, which we supported," Murray Garnick, Altria's executive vice president and general counsel, said in a statement released in October when the measure was announced. "We're focused on the future and, with FDA in place, working to develop less risky tobacco products."

Opponents of the tobacco industry are happy about the move but not satisfied.

"The corrective statements are fine, but we would have rather seen corrective action from the tobacco industry," said Robin Koval, CEO and president of Truth Initiative, a tobacco control nonprofit.

Koval also believes the statements will have little impact on keeping young people from experimenting with cigarettes because the websites are restricted to users age 21 or older.

The website statements are just one result of the 2006 decision. After years of appealing the ruling, Altria and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco paid for a TV ad campaign that began in November. The commercials contain similar corrective statements to those that are to appear on the companies' websites.

The companies must also publish statements on cigarette pack inserts by Nov. 21. Unlike the website, corrective statements that will run indefinitely, the "onserts" will run on cigarette packs for a total of 12 weeks over two years.

The number of cigarette smokers has declined to 15.5 percent of adult Americans in 2016, down from 23.5 percent in 1999. However, the growing popularity of e-cigarettes and vaping means that some consumers are getting a nicotine fix elsewhere. Government agencies have already begun cracking down on the cigarette substitutes. In April, the FDA announced that it is looking into whether leading e-cigarette brand Juul markets its products toward teenagers.