A federal judge recently ordered the relatively unusual penalty of corrective advertising in connection with a 1999 Justice Department case accusing members of the tobacco industry of racketeering under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The tobacco companies will soon be required to publish statements stating a court found them guilty of lying about smoking hazards and disclosing a litany of health risks associated with tobacco use. RICO was originally enacted to target organized crime and provide a mechanism for trying leaders of a crime syndicate for acts they ordered other people to do. Remedies for RICO violations include measures to prevent future transgressions, and the Justice Department was successful in arguing that corrective advertising would have such a deterring effect in this case. I think it requires a unique set of facts for RICO to apply in a false advertising case, but it will be interesting to see if government agencies turn to RICO as a standard enforcement tool against unscrupulous advertisers.
Check out the court order here.