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Tobacco companies deserve harsher punishment

Reed Schneider, Opinion Writer
December 12, 2012
Filed under Opinion

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered tobacco companies to publish correctives, statements declaring they blatantly lied to the public, Nov. 27.

Kessler previously ruled for the industry to pay for the advertising, but the recent judgment involves what they will actually have to say. While the government is making progress, they still have far to go.

The tobacco companies have to apologize to the public for their deliberate deceit, but that doesn’t even begin to console the loved ones of those who have died from cigarettes.

According to the New York Times, and the corrective statements Kessler has ordered to be advertised, smoking kills 1,200 people a day on average.

According to UW-Green Bay’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, 6,790 students enrolled in the fall 2012 semester, 921 of them being new incoming freshmen. When compared to the amount of people who die each day from causes directly linked to smoking, it represents 17.7 percent of the students killed each day, more than an entire freshman class.

It would take less than six days for the campus to be completely void of life.

These are the kind of numbers tobacco companies sat on and lied about. This coming March, they will finally be forced to advertise the truth.

But is the truth enough? Just because tobacco companies are forced to reveal the facts and admit they have been lying since the beginning doesn’t mean they’re all clean.

When food products, pharmaceutical goods or any other product is discovered to cause sickness or death, they’re recalled or banned, and the companies get sued.

And yet, because tobacco products come with a warning label, it’s perfectly legal to sell consumers their own taxable deaths.

Something more needs to be done to emphasize the wrongs tobacco companies have committed, and Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, has the right idea.

“The most critical part of the ruling is that it requires the tobacco companies to state clearly that the court found that they deceived the American public and that they are telling the truth now only because the court is ordering them to do so,” Myers said. “This isn’t the last word, but this is a vitally important step because this should resolve exactly what the tobacco companies are required to say.”

Myers is right because there should be no last word for the tobacco companies. As long as big tobacco is allowed to sell its products, there will always be people who buy them.

But the day can’t come fast enough when there are no buyers declaring they didn’t know what they were getting into. Even then, people will smoke. The problem stems from the deception, and this is what Kessler has gone after.

“This court made a number of explicit findings that tobacco companies perpetuated fraud and deceived the public regarding the addictiveness of cigarettes and nicotine,” Kessler said.

According to CNN, six years ago, Kessler ruled tobacco companies were guilty of racketeering. Is that any different than what big oil companies or industries of unhealthy food do?

Each year, fossil fuels continue to be drained from the environment and unhealthy food is sold to kids that don’t know better. The tobacco industry should only be the first of many targeted in clearing false representations.

As for the tobacco companies, the statements should be the first step in limiting what they can publicize. Kessler has gone far with ordering the industry to pay for its own admission of guilt, but it’s simply not enough. Companies should not be allowed to falsely advertise their products.

It should make it simple. This is one of the corrective statements regarding the illusion of safer cigarettes.

“All cigarettes cause cancer, lung disease, heart attacks and premature death — lights, low tar, ultra lights and naturals. There is no safe cigarette.”

My version is much simpler. Pay all the way to an early grave.