This Tuesday, a federal judge ordered some of the world's largest cigarette companies to come clean about decades of false advertising, deceiving the American public about the harmful effects of cigarettes. These charges are claimed to date back to at least the 1950s, when by simply adding a filter, companies branded cigarettes as “lighter” or “safer” and when the “A Frank Statement” ad infamously denied reports that cigarettes caused lung cancer.
As a counterweight for their lies and deception, Big Tobacco has been ordered to pay for a two-year national campaign admitting their deceit and setting the record straight about the harmful effects of cigarettes.
Both of my grandparents suffered and ultimately lost their lives because of smoking. My grandmother developed an aggressive case of COPD and was on oxygen for the last 12 years of her life. I could not believe how she and my grandfather couldn’t have known about the harmful effects of smoking when she started smoking at age 16, when I, as a middle-schooler, was inundated with information from the DARE program, memorable Truth ads like this one, and my health classes. I remember my grandmother shrugging, the distinct leak of her oxygen tank pulsing on and off, as she said, “We didn’t know it was bad back then. Or at least, how bad.”
For me, and unfortunately for many of our generation, the strongest anti-smoking education came from watching the effects of smoking rob our loved ones of their health. With false advertisements and media greatly influencing public opinion, our grandparents and parents didn't have the warnings that we do today from graphic images on cigarette labels, the work of anti-smoking campaigns like truth and dissemination of information on the internet.
So when these companies who got away with false advertising for so many years are finally apprehended for negatively influencing public opinion and making it hard for the truth to be known, what is a fair plan of action? Instead of merely stating “our bad,” I think these companies should counteract their negative influence by enacting positive change. The money used for a two-year national advertisement campaign should instead be used towards health education in schools or programming for teenagers and adults.
In dealing with mistakes, let's bring those like cigarette companies into the current business model of recognizing a responsibility to one's community. Let’s continue to hold companies to a higher standard and have them make a counteraction for their mistakes, not just a counterstatement.