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Judge forces tobacco companies' confession on lies about smoking dangers

It's confession time for tobacco companies. On Tuesday, US District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered they must publish "corrective statements" on their decades of lies on the health hazards of cigarette smoking.

The Associated Press reported Kessler previously wanted the companies to pay for advertisements that included "corrective statements," but now she has mandated specific wording.

Among the statements are:

When you smoke, the nicotine actually changes the brainthat's why quitting is so hard.

Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections, ear problems, severe asthma and reduced lung function.

Kessler's latest ruling was a follow-up to a 2006 decision in which she highlighted the tobacco's industry's decades-long lies and deception on the hazards of cigarette smoke. At that time, she said the tobacco industry should pay for advertisements in broadcast and print media correcting the ongoing lies. The Justice Department then proposed corrective statements, some of which are used in Kessler's current ruling.

After the 2006 proposals, tobacco companies urged Kessler to ignore them and reportedly said the statements were "forced public confessions" designed to "shame and humiliate" them. They felt making less forthright statements about smoke addiction and health effects would suffice. Kessler disagreed and made this strong statement:

"This court made a number of explicit findings that the tobacco companies perpetuated fraud and deceived the public regarding the addictiveness of cigarettes and nicotine."

Spokespersons for the two largest tobacco companies, Philip Morris USA and RJ Reynolds Tobacco, both indicated that the judge's ruling is under review. RJ Reynolds added that it is contemplating the next step in its game plan.

Opinion:

For years, tobacco companies freely and willfully displayed billboards in low-income and minority communities, along with ads in magazines that targeted young, vulnerable people who wanted the cool, hip look the ads displayed. Minority communities were not the only targets, and young people of all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds succumbed to the "in look" of cigarette smoking via commercials and Hollywood movies.

When the message was finally dispersed that "cigarette smoking is hazardous to your health," many of those young people had aged and were hopelessly addicted. They resigned themselves to not being able to quit because of a perceived inherent weakness. Kessler's findings and the "corrective statements" sum up the facts. One is that nicotine changes the brain, and the subsequent strong addiction is nearly impossible to break.

Yes, beginning the smoking habit is a choice, but wanting to stop and not having the power to do so may not be as absolute a choice as taking that initial puff. Now cigarette companies are being held responsible for what they've done. Is this justice or is it overkill?