It’s not going to come as any big surprise that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health. And it’s scary that we once thought inhaling nicotine, tobacco, paper, and any assortment of burning chemicals was even health-neutral. Well, no longer: A recent court decision is finally calling out cigarette companies for years of covering up the dangers of smoking. Major cigarette companies have been sentenced by U.S. district judge Gladys Kessler to pay for a massive media campaign publicly apologizing for 1) lying about the dangers and 2) twisting the science and studies on smoking, reported the Guardian.

Cigarette companies will have to admit they were wrong through a series of pre-written slogans, as well as pay for the entire media blitz out of their own pockets. It’s unclear exactly how much that will cost, but it’s bad news for an industry that’s been shrinking in recent years. Tobacco advertising spending dropped from $12.5 billion in 2006 to $8.05 billion in 2010, according to a report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Why It Matters

The statements actually date back to a 1999 case the government brought against cigarette companies under the “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act,” which accused manufacturers of willfully hiding smoking dangers to earn money. The companies were found guilty in 2006.

The ruling handed out November 27, 2012, attemps to finalize the corrective statements cigarette companies will have to use. Kessler wrote the new advertising campaign would counterweight the companies’ “past deception” since at least 1964, the Guardian reported. Some of the proposed slogans include:

  • “A federal court has ruled that the defendant tobacco companies deliberately deceived the American public by falsely selling and advertising low tar and light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes. …”
  • “Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day. …”
  • “Smoking kills more people than murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes and alcohol combined. …”
  • “Secondhand smoke kills over 3,000 Americans a year. …”

It’s certainly more aggressive labelling than the warnings currently found on most cigarette packs in the U.S.

What Comes Next?

Almost no one argues cigarettes are “good” for you, but there has been a slow-burning argument over whether people have the constitutional right to do that damage to themselves. The argument goes, “Cigarettes are bad, but who are we, or the government, to tell people what they can or cannot do?” Alcohol is a common foil — if it’s legal, why not cigarettes? The flip side argues that cigarettes have no redeeming factor, especially when they’re marketed to young, impressionable demographics (the older demographics keep dying partly due to age and partly because of, well, smoking). The most recent ruling seems to attack the advertising element of cigarette sales, forcing major tobacco companies to come clean in a publicly shaming way.

A final verdict on how and where the corrective messages will be advertised is expected in March, reported, but cigarette companies may still appeal the exact wording, which could delay the ruling even further.

Is the public apology a breathe a fresh air or a step too far? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author at @zsniderman.