You may recall the news story about the judge who imposed an unusual sentence on a woman for passing a school bus on the sidewalk.
The offender was ordered to stand at a busy intersection in Cleveland with a sign that said, “Only an idiot would drive on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus.”
Tuesday a federal judge ordered something similar for tobacco companies for doing something far more sinister: lying for years about the dangers of smoking.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the industry “to pay for corrective statements in various types of advertisements,” according to NBC News.
Each ad is to say a federal court has determined the companies “deliberately deceived the American public about the health effects of smoking.”
The ads must also say smoking kills more people annually “than murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes and alcohol combined.”
Smoking even kills people who don’t smoke, estimated to be about 3,000 Americans a year who die from the effects of secondhand smoke.
The stiff sentence against big tobacco companies is part of a government action first brought in 1999 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations — RICO — law.
This case has been winding its way through the courts for 15 years as litigation revealed the shameless way tobacco company CEOs and employees deliberately concealed the deadly health effects suspected by their own scientists.
Older readers will remember how the debate over the link between cancer and cigarette smoking resembles today’s debate over global warming.
Even after a preponderance of medical researchers said cigarettes caused cancer, the industry drummed up a small number of scientists with contrary opinions just to keep doubt alive.
But in 1962, Luther Terry, surgeon general of the U.S., issued a report clearly linking smoking to cancer and chronic bronchitis.
Still, the tobacco companies continued to debate and deny.
Finally, in 1964, the Federal Trade Commission ordered cigarette companies to place a warning label on each pack of cigarettes sold.
In 1958 only 44 percent of Americans thought cigarettes caused cancer. By 1968, 78 percent thought so.
In 1998, attorneys general from 46 states reached agreement with the big four tobacco companies to help compensate states for their Medicare and Medicaid expenses resulting from tobacco-related illness.
While none of this is new news, it is worth recounting the judge’s findings for a new generation of possible smokers.
Kessler ruled that:
• Tobacco companies intentionally designed cigarettes to make them more addictive;
• All cigarettes cause cancer and other diseases — lights, low tar, ultra lights and naturals. “There is no safe cigarette.”
• “Secondhand smoke causes lung and coronary heart disease in adults who do not smoke.”
And the judge repeated for emphasis the grimmest statistic of all:
• “Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day.”
That’s 422,400 Americans a year. Year after year after year.
The tobacco companies covered up and denied the medical evidence for years, even as they knew themselves it was true.
It’s time all Americans, including the 20 percent of Mainers who still smoke, know the awful truth.
Sun Journal, Lewiston (Nov. 30)