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U.S. Court Bans Sale of Light and Ultralight Cigarettes

Big Tobacco Ordered to Run Corrective TV, Print Advertising

By Published on .

WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Deciding that Big Tobacco engaged in a racketeering conspiracy against U.S. taxpayers, a federal court judge today issued the most punishing ruling ever against the industry, banning the sale of "light" and "ultralight" cigarettes and demanding corrective advertising.
A judge ruled that tobacco companies can no longer refer to their cigarettes as being 'light' or 'ultralight.'
A judge ruled that tobacco companies can no longer refer to their cigarettes as being 'light' or 'ultralight.' Credit: AP

Ad groups had no immediate comment on the decision by U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler, except to say it was "significant." But sweeping advertising sanctions could set a precedent for other industries, including food and alcohol, leaving little doubt that the ad industry will move to involve itself in the appeal, probably through friend-of-the-court briefs.

The ad industry has gone to court before to battle tobacco-related ad curbs proposed by the Food and Drug Administration under former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, which were eventually overturned for procedural reasons.

Judge Kessler's 1,742-page decision -- the order was another 18 pages --included sweeping limits on tobacco makers. Among them:
  • the use of the terms "low tar," "light," "ultra light," "mild" and "natural" are banned;
  • each big tobacco company is required to buy one full-page corrective ad in the Sunday editions of more than two dozen major newspapers, with the schedule alternated monthly among the companies;
  • major tobacco makers are ordered to run 15-second corrective TV spots once a week during prime time for a year;
  • packaging and in-store signs must carry new corrective advertising.
Judge Kessler indicated she might have imposed additional sanctions that would cost tobacco makers billions of dollars, but she felt she didn't have the authority to do so.

The U.S. case was filed by the Clinton administration against what was originally five tobacco makers: Altria, parent of Philip Morris; R.J. Reynolds; Lorillard; Brown & Williamson; and BAT.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that for two years, big tobacco is required to buy full-page corrective advertising monthly in the Sunday editions of more than two dozen major newspapers with the schedule alternated so the ads appear at least weekly.
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