Is it appropriate for a judge to order a business to publicly confess it lied?
Tobacco companies say no, but a federal judge is going to do it anyway.
While coercion of businesses by the government or courts is not something that should be routine in a free enterprise system like ours, there certainly are times when an exception has to be made and this seems like one.
At issue is deception by the tobacco companies about the health risks of smoking.
Most of us are familiar with the health warnings that now appear on tobacco products, especially cigarettes. The warnings explicitly tell those choosing to exercise their free choice to smoke that they are facing severe health risks and even death. Because of those warnings, no one can now deny they were aware of the risks.
That wasn't always the case. There was a time when smoking was even promoted as healthy or at the very least that there was an unknown or unproven risk in doing so. It has been determined in various court cases over the years that the tobacco companies actually knew this wasn't true and deliberately hid the facts from smokers.
It is one thing when people accept risks they know about, but quite another when they are deceived about the known risks.
While the tobacco companies may have felt this deception was sound business practice, the U.S. Justice Department doesn't and a federal judge recently supported the agency by ordering the companies to admit in paid advertisements that they lied. The judge said that as part of the ads, the companies must include a statement that they “deliberately deceived the American public about the health effects of smoking.”
Tobacco companies have already paid large settlements for their past actions, and some may think the required admissions — which the companies claim is forced humiliation — don't really add anything material to the financial punishments they have already received.
Perhaps, but justice can come in various forms and this seems like an appropriate one in this case.