On every package of cigarettes sold in the United States, there is a warning about adverse health effects from smoking. Under the auspices of the U.S. Surgeon General, the packages have explicit statements that smoking causes cancer and heart disease, that cigarettes contain deadly carbon monoxide, that quitting will lower your risk and that pregnant women are risking the health of their babies by smoking.
The labels have been on packages for decades, having been required by Congress in 1965. In 1970, cigarette ads on television were banned.
Over the years, the warnings have changed and gotten more substantial, but the tobacco companies still had legal trouble. A lawsuit filed in 1999 against the cigarette makers by the Department of Justice resulted in a 2006 court order requiring companies to produce and air television ads with "corrective statements." At the time, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler wrote in the court's opinion that the companies had engaged in "massive wrongdoing" that caused, "a staggering number of deaths per year, an immeasurable amount of human suffering and economic loss, and a profound burden on our national health care system."
The lawsuit alleged that the tobacco companies had engaged in racketeering and conspiracy to hide the truth about health conditions caused by smoking and had purposely designed cigarettes that were highly addictive. While the case was settled in 2006 when the court order was issued, it's been tied up in appeals for eleven years. Finally, at the end of November, the companies began airing the ads.
Tobacco companies like Phillip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard and Altria paid for the ads, and they are a bleak reminder of what cigarettes can do to the body and how dangerous they are. Much of the legal wrangling was over the wording of the ads, which are blunt and list the addictive nature of cigarettes and the deadly diseases they cause. In part of the appeals, the tobacco companies argued against the use of the phrase "here is the truth" but its inclusion was upheld.
In an interview with NPR, Matthew Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids explained the language saying, " [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 that the statements be stark, be accurate, and be detailed enough to have an impact when they're heard." In addition to the health warnings, one of the ads says, "Cigarette companies intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction."
The ads are styled in a particular way that also draws attention to the message. The print ads, as well as the commercials, feature a white background, with black text for the statements. In the television ads, the voice over sounds robotic, as if it were not a person speaking. This style of advertising is referred to as "tombstone" ads because they are often used to convey a somber message, without graphics or photos to distract from what they are saying. The full text of the corrective statements can be found here and a list of media outlets that will run the ads can be found here
The video below has more information as well on these historic ads that are finally being seen.