WASHINGTON — Starting in July, convenience stores that have promotional cigarette programs with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Philip Morris USA must display corrective statement signs about the health effects and addictiveness of smoking. Manufacturers will be responsible for printing and hanging the signs.
On Dec. 6, Federal Judge Paul Friedman in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia signed an order approving the corrective statements settlement agreement among the U.S. Department of Justice, Altria Group Inc., Philip Morris USA Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and ITG Brands LLC.
The legal fight dates back to 1999, when the U.S. government sued major cigarette companies regarding statements made by the companies about cigarettes and smoking. Those manufacturers were ordered to air advertisements with corrective statements, among other reparations, like placing signs with corrective statements in stores that sell those products. Since then, cigarette makers have published messages warning cigarette users that cigarettes can cause cancer, the dangers of secondhand smoke and more.
While an earlier proposal would have required stores to display 18 different point-of-sale (POS) messages over two years, the settlement approved on Dec. 6 was considerably scaled back.
Representatives from Altria, Reynolds American, ITG Brands, the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO) and NACS broke down the settlement for retailers at the 2022 NACS Show in Las Vegas in early October.
For regular, non-kiosk-style stores, one 348-square-inch corrective statement sign must be displayed above or adjacent to the main cigarette display, within 48 inches of the main store entrance or within 48 inches of the cash register. Stores that have more than 9 feet of horizontal linear visible display space devoted to the involved manufacturers’ cigarette brands will need to hang a second sign. The kiosk store sign requirement is smaller.
Manufacturers will print the corrective statement signs with 17 different court-ordered messages, with one message printed on each sign.
Signs lead with a disclaimer that says: “A federal court has ordered R.J. Reynolds Tobacco & Philip Morris USA to state:” and are followed by a variety of messages including, “Smoking is highly addictive. Nicotine is the addictive drug in tobacco,” and “It’s not easy to quit.”
Those signs will be randomly distributed by the manufacturer to stores. Signs will be rotated once in within the 21-month display period, after which the requirement will end.
There are penalties for retailers who do not comply with the terms of the agreement, and an auditor will be retained by manufacturers to review signs and to conduct some random store visits to see if stores are out of compliance.
A working group of 10 members, including attorneys representing the manufacturers, NATO and NACS, will be formed to address implementation and compliance questions from retailers.
The deadlines for implementation of this agreement, as provided by NATO, are as follows:
- Implementation period: Between Jan. 1 through June 30, cigarette manufacturers will print and develop a plan to distribute the corrective statement signage to retailers nationwide.
- Ramp-Up period: Cigarette manufacturers will physically hang the signs in stores between July 1 and Sept. 30.
- Display period: The display period runs from Oct. 1 through June 30, 2025, and requires the corrective statement signs to be continuously displayed in stores during this 21-month period.
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