Guest Editorial by the Center for Health Systems Improvement for a Tobacco-Free New York
A statement on behalf of CAI and the New York State Department of Health Tobacco Control Program’s “Advancing Tobacco Free Communities” and Center for Health Systems Improvement:
By Sept. 30, 2023, the major U.S. tobacco companies must post visual signs at about 220,000 retail stores across the nation that sell cigarettes, telling storegoers the truth about cigarette smoking. Under federal court order, the signs – known as corrective statements – are being installed near cigarette displays in these stores between July 1 and Sept. 30 and must continue to be displayed until June 30, 2025.
This action will significantly benefit communities of color that are disproportionately saturated with colorful tobacco advertisements and flavored tobacco products, which attract and addict new teen smokers and make quitting smoking more difficult.
The display of corrective statements was first ordered in 2006 as part of a landmark judgment in United States v. Philip Morris, et al., holding the tobacco companies liable for violating civil racketeering laws and lying to the public for decades about the health risks and addictiveness associated with smoking and their marketing to children. The posting of corrective statements was delayed for 16 years as the tobacco companies fought back against posting them in stores where cigarettes are sold.
In Black and brown communities, there are up to 10 times more tobacco retail stores, meaning shoppers in those areas have more exposure to tobacco advertisements and products that line the shelves of stores behind the counter with high accessibility. These tobacco retailers are typically in close proximity to schools, community centers and health facilities.
“Big Tobacco neglects all health equity practices, by exploiting Black culture and focusing their menthol marketing strategies on Black Americans. Menthol makes smoking easier to start and harder to quit,” said Amanda Hucksoll, Reality Check program manager. “Here in New York, public health champions, community members, parents and young people have had enough. Across the state, we’ve seen efforts to remove menthol from the shelves through community engagement and education. Where 72% of New Yorkers, and 28.5% of current menthol smokers support the removal of menthol tobacco from retail stores.”
Rashawn Smalls, community engagement program manager for Tobacco Free Erie and Niagara, said, “It isn’t about taking away people’s choice to smoke. We are not against smokers. It is about saving lives. And preventing future addiction and disease.”
•Why the delay in posting the corrective statements:
Tobacco companies fought back against displaying corrective statements in court for 16 years. However, a federal court order formalized the mandate in December. The order applies to tobacco companies Altria and its Philip Morris USA subsidiary, R.J. Reynolds and ITG Brands.
The signs will vividly showcase the truth about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke, and the addictiveness of smoking.
“By increasing education and awareness in stores, people who use tobacco products will be reminded that their health is not as important to tobacco companies as the profit they bring in. ‘Big Tobacco’ view people’s lives as dollar signs,” said Stan Martin, Project Director of Advancing Tobacco Free Communities.
A local youth leader from the east Side of Buffalo, Jah’Asya Cannon, said, “Menthol is more accessible than mental health facilities and smoking cessation resources that will effectively help people stop smoking.”
David Davis, director of tobacco control health initiatives at CAI, said, "Cigarette smoking is an addiction and, according to the CDC, remains the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the United States. Despite that, ‘Big Tobacco’ spends billions of dollars each year marketing their deadly and addictive product, especially to vulnerable and marginalized populations. As a result, these groups disproportionately experience tobacco-related disease and illness. These signs will play a key role in addressing tobacco-related health disparities and improving the health outcomes of these populations."
“It’s time for decision-makers and elected officials to take a stand, recognize the deceptive tactics that tobacco companies used, and protect future lives from being lost. Take menthol off the shelves,” said Annette Colden, Tobacco Action Group member against Big Tobacco.
•What does this look like?
Signs will appear in about 220,000 stores covered by agreements with the defendant tobacco companies. In total, there are 17 signs exposing the truths about tobacco and nicotine that these companies have lied and tried avoiding for so long. After years of lies, the industry will finally have to own up to their actions that fueled addiction in hundreds of thousands of Americans.
Compliance will be enforced by external agencies to ensure that stores are adhering to the mandated law. A tip line will also be created for people to call in and make reports on stores that are not following in accordance.
CAI is a nonprofit organization that works at the local, state, national and international levels to help organizations improve health care and social services for marginalized communities. Tobacco-Free Erie and Niagara Counties and Health System’s Change are two of more than 25 projects that CAI currently administers, which aim to reduce adult tobacco use and prevent youth from ever starting through education and community mobilization.