(Reuters) - Major tobacco companies must take out advertisements saying they deliberately deceived the U.S. public about the danger and addictiveness of cigarettes, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.
The ruling in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia aims to finalize the wording of the advertisements that the judge first ordered in 2006 after finding the companies violated federal racketeering law.
Tobacco companies fought a public admission of deception, calling it a violation of their free speech rights.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler rejected the companies' position, finding that the final wording - which the companies and the U.S. Justice Department have fought over for years - is factual and not controversial.
There are five different statements that the companies will be required to advertise.
One of them begins: "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."
The advertisements will be placed in media that are still to be determined, and they will be different from the warning labels that already are on tobacco products.
"The government regularly requires wrongdoers to make similar disclosures in a number of different contexts," Kessler wrote, calling the language "basic, uncomplicated".
A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, which had urged the strong language, had no immediate comment.
Two of the largest companies, Altria Group Inc and Reynolds American Inc, did not immediately return messages requesting comment. The companies could continue to fight the language with another appeal in a case that began in 1999 with the government's racketeering charges.