ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has officially entered a court order regarding the communication of tobacco-related messaging at retail locations.
In July, Altria, Philip Morris USA Inc., RJ Reynolds Tobacco and ITG Brands reached an agreement in long-running litigation brought by the DOJ and certain public health organizations regarding these communications. The agreement requires those tobacco companies to supply court-ordered signs to stores that have contracts with any of them and require those stores to post the signs for a total of 21 months.
The order will go into effect on July 1, 2023, and gives defendants three months to post the required corrective statements. Independent auditors will periodically evaluate compliance with the order, and a tip line will be established so that the public may report incidents where they believe the statements are not being displayed properly or at all. The order further implements certain measures designed to discourage noncompliance, including specific consequences for retailers who fail to properly display the corrective statements after warnings and opportunities to cure.
The order imposes the last of several corrective remedies ordered by the court. The lawsuit was filed by the DOJ against Altria, Philip Morris USA Inc. and RJ Reynolds in the 1990s. NACS and the tobacco companies spent 17 years fighting any signage requirement through the litigation process and, along with the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, also participated in the negotiations that led to the agreement in order to advocate for retailers.
“This litigation has always put the retailers in a uniquely bad position,” said Doug Kantor, NACS general counsel. “Retailers were not parties to the lawsuit and should not be burdened with a court-ordered remedy, but this negotiated outcome avoids even worse results that DOJ and public health groups were advocating.”
The agreement provides that each store under contract with one of the manufacturers will have to post at least one sign carrying one of 17 different, pre-approved health messages that will be distributed at random to retailers around the country. Each store will be required to rotate to a new message halfway through the time period required in the agreement. The manufacturers will be required to hire auditors to check whether the signs are properly posted.
NACS has prepared a summary of the agreement explaining the requirements for retailers, as well as answers to frequently asked questions about it. NACS also hosted a webinar to educate retailers on the agreement and answer questions about it.