A U.S. District Judge has ordered tobacco companies to add new health warnings on cigarette packaging and websites, as federal regulators consider requiring lower nicotine levels industry-wide.
In an order (PDF) issued on May 1, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia indicated that tobacco companies have to publish “corrective statements” on websites and cigarette packaging that indicate the health risks of tobacco include secondhand smoke, and that they intentionally misled the public for years.
The court order requires the statements to be added to corporate websites by June 18, and to cigarette packs by November 21. The order details the required format and placement of the statements, but the details of the bodies of those statements are to be hammered out by plaintiffs and defendants in the coming weeks. They must also include a preamble indicating that the statements are required by a federal court order.
The American Heart Association issued a statement applauding the order the day it was issued, saying that it requires tobacco companies to implement a court order dating back to 2006.
“Today’s order is another important step in holding the tobacco companies accountable for decades of deception and wrongdoing and ensuring the public knows the facts about the deadly consequences of smoking and secondhand smoke,” the American Heart Association said in its press release. “This case and the corrective statements are powerful reminders that tobacco’s horrific toll is no accident. It stems directly from the tobacco industry’s deceptive and even illegal practices.”
The order comes as the FDA considers new restrictions on the amount of nicotine in cigarettes, amid recent findings that it could save many lives.
On March 15, the agency announced an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, exploring a regulatory standard to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes to minimally or non-addictive levels.
“This new regulatory step advances a comprehensive policy framework that we believe could help avoid millions of tobacco-related deaths across the country,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a press statement.
A special report published on May 3 in The New England Journal of Medicine appears to back up his estimates. Researchers conducted simulation models on the effects of the FDA’s proposed policy through 2100, looking at estimates of future use and health problems from tobacco products.
“We estimate that by 2060 16 million persons who would have otherwise initiated smoking will not start because of this policy,” the researchers determined. “This number increases to 33.1 million by 2100.”