Court-Ordered Statements Could Boost Tobacco Policy Efforts

On Nov. 26,  Altria, Philip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds and other tobacco companies will begin to publish court-ordered "corrective statements,” the result of a 2006 federal court verdict finding the companies in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. A recent national survey shows increased awareness of the corrective statements and related court findings could aid efforts to enact effective tobacco policies and encourage lawmakers to revise or replace laws influenced by tobacco companies.

“The public doesn’t think their lawmakers should trust tobacco company lobbyists to provide accurate information on tobacco issues,” said Dr. Robert McCaffree, Associate Director for Policy at the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center. “Our study found that as the public becomes aware of the corrective statements and related court findings, trust will likely decline further while current support for proven tobacco control policies will grow.” Survey results include:

Large proportions of U.S. adults are unaware of much of the information in the corrective statements and major court findings. Less than one in four (23.1%) report being aware of the racketeering verdict that led to the court-ordered statements.  

Trust in tobacco companies and their lobbyists declines significantly when the public is exposed to the corrective statements and court findings. For example, the proportion of Americans who think “lawmakers should trust tobacco companies as much as they trust other companies” drops from 32.4% before exposure to 24.4% after exposure.

Greater public awareness of the statements and findings also increases overall public support for certain tobacco control policies and the intensity of support for others. For example, those who “strongly favor” large graphic warning labels on cigarette packs increases from 50.6% before exposure to 56.2% after exposure.

Internal tobacco industry documents – many used as evidence in the racketeering verdict – indicate the companies and their lobbyists have influenced public policies for over 50 years. The companies take credit in their documents for having defeated multiple tobacco policy measures in every state. When they couldn’t defeat a proposed measure, they often sought to weaken it.

“In their own words, the companies acknowledge having written or influenced many laws that are still in effect today,” said McCaffree. “Our survey results show Americans want lawmakers to revise or replace those laws and reject potential tobacco company influences in the future.”

The survey found:

  • Strong majorities of U.S. adults think lawmakers should refuse meals or other gifts from tobacco company lobbyists (74.4%), refuse campaign contributions from tobacco company lobbyists (72.7%), and refuse campaign contributions from tobacco companies (70.9%). Over half (54.5%) think lawmakers should refuse to meet with tobacco company lobbyists. Only one in five (19.7%) think lawmakers should allow tobacco companies or tobacco company lobbyists to help write laws.
  • When asked what lawmakers should do if a tobacco-related law was written or influenced by a tobacco company or tobacco company lobbyist, only 5.0% think lawmakers should “leave the law as it is” while nearly two-thirds think lawmakers should either “revise the law” (30.1%) or “remove the law and start over” (35.3%).
  • Very few Americans (10%) think tobacco companies are now taking responsibility for the harm caused by smoking.

The five court-ordered statements will include 18 facts about tobacco companies’ manipulation of nicotine levels, low tar or light cigarettes being as harmful as regular cigarettes, nicotine addiction, health effects of smoking, and health effects of secondhand smoke. The survey of 2,010 U.S. adults was conducted in May 2017 with funding from the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center at the Stephenson Cancer Center. To assess how awareness of the statements and findings will likely affect attitudes, half of the survey respondents were asked to express their opinions before reading the statements and major court findings. The other half were asked to express their opinions after reading the statements and major court findings.

A one-page executive summary and a 10-page preliminary report is available online on the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center Policy webpage.