A smoker is engulfed by vapours Tolga Akmen/Getty Images

Seeing Through Big Tobacco’s Smokescreen

Legal setbacks in the US have forced the tobacco industry to concede that its products are harmful, and that for decades cigarette producers deliberately misled the public about the health effects of smoking. But these "corrective statements" do not mean that the war with the industry is over.

GENEVA – We all know how bad tobacco is, that it kills millions of people every year, and that it harms many more. We also know that tobacco companies have consistently lied about how much damage their products cause.

But now, even Big Tobacco has been forced to state the facts publicly. After losing a string of appeals following a 2006 US federal court ruling, four companies have been forced to reveal the truth behind years of deceptive marketing, by publishing advertisements containing “corrective statements” in US newspapers and on television. These public statements acknowledge that the companies – Philip Morris USA, RJ Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard, and Altria – knew the damage their products cause but kept selling them anyway.

And it is not just courts that are taking action against the tobacco industry. The recent decision by French bank BNP Paribas to stop financing and investing in tobacco companies – including producers, wholesalers, and traders – is just the latest sign that public health is finally being put ahead of commercial interests.

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