Tobacco Companies Admit In Ads That They Made Cigarettes More Addictive : Shots - Health News A federal judge ordered tobacco companies to pay for ads warning that their products are deadly and that they manipulated them to be addictive. But the form of the ads may be dulling their effect.

In Ads, Tobacco Companies Admit They Made Cigarettes More Addictive

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If you read a newspaper yesterday, you might have seen a full-page ad warning of the dangers of smoking - black text on an otherwise blank page telling people smoking kills about 1,200 Americans every day. You'll be seeing and hearing more of them, too. Tonight, similar messages will begin airing on prime-time TV. The ads were court ordered more than a decade ago. NPR's Alison Kodjak reports.

ALISON KODJAK, BYLINE: The ads are pretty weird. They use a voice that sounds a bit like Apple's Siri but not quite as friendly. And they start like this.


COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: A federal court has ordered Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard and Philip Morris USA to make this statement about the health effects of smoking.

KODJAK: Then the bad news begins to flow.


COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: Smoking causes heart disease, emphysema, acute myeloid leukemia and cancer of the mouth, esophagus, larynx, lung, stomach, kidney, bladder and pancreas.

KODJAK: Along with the health warnings, there's this admission.


COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: Cigarette companies intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction.

KODJAK: The ads - there are five in all - will appear in print newspapers, on newspaper websites and on network TV over the next year. The cigarette companies were ordered to run the ads back in 2006 when a federal judge found they had conspired to cover up the risks of smoking. The company's appeals lasted until this year. Matthew Myers is president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. He says the tobacco companies fought over every line in the ads.

MATTHEW MYERS: It is in fact the result of literally hundreds of hours of negotiation with the Department of Justice and the campaign and other public health groups arguing that it's important that the statements be stark, be accurate and be detailed enough to have an impact when they're heard.

KODJAK: His group was one of the plaintiffs along with the Justice Department in the suit against the tobacco companies. He says the ads, which the companies and courts call corrective statements, may seem like old news to a lot of people but still have information that may surprise the public.

MYERS: Very few people know that the court found that the tobacco industry intentionally manipulates the cigarettes to make them more addictive.

KODJAK: That's what struck Kenneth Warner of the University of Michigan. He says the messages are a confession of sorts from the tobacco companies.

KENNETH WARNER: They know what they have been doing for decades. They know that they have been killing their customers and that they know that they have been trying to addict their customers and keep them addicted.

KODJAK: But he says the stark messages with the disembodied voice, the white screen, the simple scrolling letters seem designed specifically to be ignored.

WARNER: As a - an advertising design, this is a very weak one. This is kind of designed not to get the message across because there's no imagery associated with it.

KODJAK: He says he would have liked to see a person, maybe even an executive from a cigarette company, deliver those messages. Nora Rifon, a professor of consumer psychology at Michigan State University, agrees.

NORA RIFON: The form of these ads is what we would call tombstone advertising.

KODJAK: Because of the plain text on the blank background.

RIFON: If the intention was for these ads to have some effect or a dampening effect on smoking initiation or just continuing to smoke, I would say it won't work.

KODJAK: The tobacco companies declined to be interviewed for this story, but in written statements, Reynolds American, which acquired Lorillard in 2015 and merged it with R.J. Reynolds, and Altria, which owns Philip Morris, say the industry has changed and is now better regulated and more responsible. But Rifon says the company's decade-long fight over these ads worked.

RIFON: They knew the longer they waited, the more likely it was that whatever they had to do wasn't going to matter.

KODJAK: That's because not many young people read the paper or regularly watch network television. Alison Kodjak, NPR News.


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