Cigarette companies ordered to display health warning signs at retailers

Business

Altria’s Marlboro cigarettes sold at a store.
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Major cigarette companies will soon be required to post signs at retail locations warning of the health effects of smoking, the Justice Department announced.

The order, set to go into effect on July 1, 2023, is the last in a broader series of court-ordered measures stemming from a 1999 lawsuit against cigarette companies, the department said in a release.

The order requires defendants Altria, Philip Morris USA Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and four cigarette brands owned by ITG Brands to display the signs for two years. Representatives for the companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“Justice Department attorneys have worked diligently for over 20 years to hold accountable the tobacco companies that defrauded consumers about the health risks of smoking,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta in a statement.

The retail signs will be “designed to be eye-catching” and will include warnings such as “Smoking cigarettes causes numerous diseases and on average 1,200 American deaths every day” and “The nicotine in cigarettes is highly addictive and that cigarettes have been designed to create and sustain addiction.”

The order stems from lawsuit filed in 1999 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by a coalition of anti-tobacco and public-health advocacy groups. It resulted in a ruling that the cigarette companies were defrauding consumers about the health dangers associated with cigarette smoking. 

As part of earlier court orders, similar health warning statements in 2017 began appearing in newspaper and TV ads, on cigarette packages and on the companies’ websites. The retail signs were the subject of several appeals before an agreement on them was reached this past May, the Justice Department said.

The order will apply to about 200,000 U.S. retail locations that have merchandising agreements with the cigarette companies, according to the department. The companies will have to amend their retailer contracts, then manufacture and distribute the required signs within six months of the order’s start date.

The order comes as e-cigarette maker Juul Lab this week settled litigation accusing it of deceptive marketing and sales practices. The company, which is owned in part by Altria, said it reached settlements covering more than 5,000 cases with nearly 10,000 plaintiffs.

As a part of the resolutions, Juul will compensate those struggling with nicotine addiction and fund programs aimed at countering youth nicotine usage.

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