In a report released online in the journal Tobacco Control, postdoctoral fellow Sally Dunlop and Dan Romer, director of APPC’s Adolescent Health Communication Institute, show how a dramatic increase in newspaper coverage of litigation against Philip Morris for its deceptive advertising for light cigarettes was associated with a decline in misperceptions about the benefits of light cigarettes among young smokers who read newspapers. This result is significant because beliefs about light cigarettes are associated with perceptions of risk from smoking and intentions to quit. The more that young smokers think that light cigarettes are healthier than regular cigarettes, the more likely they are to think that smoking is not risky and that they need not quit smoking.
The findings suggest that major litigation cases against Big Tobacco can have an educational effect, especially if the news media devote extensive coverage to the rulings. In this class action case, a court in Illinois fined Philip Morris $10.1 billion in damages for its deceptive advertising. Even though the case was eventually overturned, it did generate considerable publicity about the false claims made about light cigarettes and the knowledge that the company had about those claims.