The Shocking Big Tobacco Ads You’re Going to See on National TV

It’s pretty much common knowledge these days that Big Tobacco deceived its customers and did not let them know that their product was dangerous. But people still smoke cigarettes despite efforts from politicians, the media, and groups like the Truth Initiative. Well, that could change with a new court-ordered ad campaign. Big Tobacco will have to admit on national TV and in print that their product kills people.

What this means

Wooden gavel on a table

It took 18 years to get this ruling enacted. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Back in 1999, the D.O.J. filed racketeering charges against four major tobacco companies: Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard, and Philip Morris USA. In a judgment delivered in 2006, the courts ordered all the companies to pay for ads on national T.V. admitting to their wrongdoing. Big Tobacco has been fighting those judgments for more than a decade.

Next: Why did it take so long?

All the concessions

A campaigner holds a pack of cigarettes in front of a stand of tobacco boxes

Big Tobacco really didn’t want to own this court ruling. | Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/GettyImages

The original judgment filed against Big Tobacco was a much more expansive punishment. Big Tobacco filed appeal after appeal in order to garner certain concessions to the judgment. For example, in the original ruling, the companies would have to admit that they lied to and deceived the American public. Through appealing the case, they were able to get that taken out of the original ruling. Now they just have to tell you what smoking can do to your health.

Next: Where will all these ads run?

The ads will be everywhere

A kiosk advertising cigarettes

Hopefully, these ads will be more prevalent than the smoking ads already out there. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

According to the judgment, the ads on TV will be run at minimum five times a week on major networks in prime time. They will also have to buy print ads in about 50 publications across the country. Big Tobacco will be forced to run these ads for at least a year and will have to pay for every one they use. You can expect to see the ads begin this weekend.

Next: What will the ads look like?

The ads can be as boring as they want

There is no stipulation to the content in the ads, other than the health consequences of smoking and that those four companies have paid for the ad. Even though Big Tobacco has some of the most talented marketing and advertising people out there, this is the only glimpse we have of what we can expect: a plain white screen with black text and a robotic voice reading the effects of smoking. It comes as an almost child-like approach to someone saying, “hey, you have to do this,” and then they just do the absolute bare minimum of what was required. Look at this one compared to the more well-produced TV ads that have been effective in getting people to quit.

Next: Experts aren’t sure what kind of effect the ads will have.

Are the ads going to be effective?

Man smoking on a sidewalk.

Smoking still kills nearly half a million people a year in the United States. | Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Experts aren’t sure if the campaign will be effective in its purpose. For one, the majority of consumers get their advertising through digital mediums and not through television or newspapers. At the very least, Cliff Douglas of the American Cancer Society told NBC News, “They [the consumers] don’t want to give their hard-earned bucks to Big Tobacco” if the ads are capable of making them mad enough.

As a consumer, I can tell you that this ad seriously bored me. I actually had to watch it a couple of times to grasp the very, very simple message in it. However, I can’t speak to all peoples’ attention spans or to effectiveness on a larger sample size.

Next: Aren’t there already anti-smoking ads on TV?

Do more ads make for better marketing?

American cancer society sign on a table

Maybe a media blitz will be more effective in reducing smoking numbers. | Moses Robinson/Getty Images for American Cancer Society

For years, the Truth Initiative (which came as a result of a separate court ruling against Big Tobacco) and the Centers for Disease Control have been running ads speaking to the consequences of smoking and what the tobacco companies did to get people addicted to cigarettes. This ad campaign will be the first time that Big Tobacco will be admitting to what their product does in a public fashion. The hope would be that by having these many ads on TV and in print, we can reduce the smoking population further than it already has been over the last few decades.

Next: Some quick facts to know about the smoking ads

Here’s everything we can expect in any given ad

The headquaters of Philip Morris International

Philip Morris is one of the four companies paying for the ads. | Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

  • Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard, and Philip Morris USA intentionally designed cigarettes to make them more addictive.
  • Cigarette companies control the impact and delivery of nicotine in many ways, including designing filters and selecting cigarette paper to maximize the ingestion of nicotine, adding ammonia to make the cigarette taste less harsh, and controlling the physical and chemical make-up of the tobacco blend.
  • When you smoke, the nicotine actually changes the brain — that’s why quitting is so hard.
  • Secondhand smoke kills over 38,000 Americans each year.
  • Secondhand smoke causes lung cancer and coronary heart disease in adults who do not smoke.
  • 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.
  • There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

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