Yesterday, a federal judge ruled that tobacco companies will have to pay for an advertising campaign admitting that they lied for years about the health impacts of cigarettes.
[U.S. District Judge Gladys] Kessler’s ruling on Tuesday, which the companies could try to appeal, aims to finalize the wording of five different statements the companies will be required to use.
One of them begins: “A federal court has ruled that the defendant tobacco companies deliberately deceived the American public by falsely selling and advertising low tar and light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes.”
Another statement includes the wording: “Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day.”
The effect on consumers will be modest: Anyone who doesn’t yet realize that the tobacco industry spent years obfuscating its role in damaging public health is probably not a terribly productive member of society. But the case is notable both for holding the companies accountable — a very good thing — and for establishing precedent. In case, you know, other industries that wantonly damage public health lie about the effects of their products.
On a completely unrelated note, did you know that the coal industry has a number of billboards up in Pennsylvania advertising how great coal is? Look, here are some examples. “Increasingly Green,” one says. “Clean & Green” is a common tagline. I’m not sure how the industry can trumpet coal as being clean, much less green, given that it has a demonstrable track record of being filthy and deadly when burned. The health effects are similar to those caused by tobacco use, in fact: lung disease, acute heart problems. (We’ll update this post in the year 2200 with the full body count from climate change, assuming things have settled down by then.)
The only way coal gets cleaner is if you filter out the pollution, which would be like, say, tobacco companies claiming that it’s safer to smoke cigarettes because of the improved filters they’re using. Coal doesn’t have any built-in filter, any way to be cleaner. Saying coal is cleaner because the EPA is making coal plants better filter the emissions is like tobacco companies saying cigarettes are healthier if you smoke them through a gas mask.
But anyway, the coal industry in Pennsylvania is littering the thruway with billboard after billboard falsely touting how clean its product is. I wonder if there’s any mechanism by which it could be held to account?