Federal court orders big tobacco to tell the truth in new ads

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Cigarettes kill 1,200 Americans a day. That’s more people than HIV/AIDS, car crashes and alcohol combined.

Michigan State has banned smoking on campus, but the behavior is still common with young people. Now, a new court order might change that. After nearly a decade of court battles, Big Tobacco companies are being forced to pay for ads that tell consumers just how deadly their products are. The ads will also tell people that the cigarettes were intentionally designed to manipulate consumers, by making them more addictive and hard to quit.

There are a few versions of the commercial and each feature a robotic voice reading black text over a blank-white background. The minimalist, monotone ads list the risks of smoking.

“Cigarette companies intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction,” reads one commercial. “When you smoke, the nicotine actually changes the brain – that’s why quitting is so hard.”

The commercials do not sugar-coat the realities of cigarette smoke – but advertising experts like Ross Chowles say that they may not be enough to get people to quit. Where it may be effective is in dissuading potential smokers from lighting up.

“I don’t know if it’s enough to say ‘our product is bad for you’ to turn you off,” said Chowles. “Is it enough? No. No, it’s not enough…It [might be effective for] the people on the fence, it’s the people either way.”

College-aged smokers like Jason Wu say that the health risks of smoking are well-known, but he chooses to use cigarettes anyways. For Wu, it’s a social habit that he says he has under his control.

“It makes me look cool, I know that’s a stupid reason [for smoking],” said Wu. “I don’t condone it, but I do it anyways.”

One student, Eric Molenaar, lights up a cigar at Campbell’s Smoke Shop, just off-campus, in between classes. He says he enjoys the cozy atmosphere of the environment and the chance to de-stress. He also knows the dangers of smoking, but says kids will do it anyways to be rebellious.

“I think the danger [of smoking] is well-educated,” said Molenaar. “But [smoking] is drunk culture, and I like to think it’s a bit of kids trying to be edgy. I would be lying if I said that wasn’t me. If you’re in any line for the bar, kids are like, chain-smoking. I guarantee kids don’t do that normally.”

Chowles says that the ads may not give consumers new information – many know the risks of smoking – but the ads might piss people off, which is also effective.

“Anger is good,” said Chowles. “They also have to say that they deceived, and that they try to make their products more addictive.”

The truthful ads will run at least five times a week on the major networks during prime-time for the next year. They’ll also appear in more than 50 newspapers across the country.

“I would hope this would stop people from smoking,” said Wu.

Although Wu says that the ads don’t necessarily change his mind.

“Whatever, we all have to die someday.”

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