Why a 1904 Paint Ad Has Advertisers Worried

It was used to push lead paint, and cited in a recent court ruling
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 4, 2018 12:48 PM CDT
Century-Old Paint Ads at Play in Lead Case
Cans of paint are seen at a Sherwin-Williams store in Brunswick, Maine.   (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach, File)

Sherwin-Williams is asking the Supreme Court to take up a case regarding the historical sale of lead paint—and advertisements that go back more than a century. The move comes after a California court found Sherwin-Williams and two other paint brands responsible for health risks tied to lead paint and ordered them to pay $1.5 billion in damages to a state cleanup fund, reports the Wall Street Journal. The ruling cited ads, one going back to 1904, in which Sherwin-Williams touted the benefits of its lead paint. The company argues it shouldn't be held responsible because the risks of lead paint weren't well established back then, though the state of California cited an internal Sherwin-Williams message written in 1900 that called white lead (formerly used in paint) a "deadly cumulative poison."

This leaves advertisers with a vested interest in the case. As lead paint wasn't banned by the federal government in homes until 1978, 35 years after Sherwin-Williams stopped making it, some worry the ruling will affect how ads for a wide variety of products are interpreted well into the future in terms of liability. "The California court has retroactively imposed multi-millions of dollars of damages on Sherwin-Williams by applying today's scientific standards to ads that were published decades ago," Dan Jaffe of the Association of National Advertisers tells Adweek. "We're constantly learning things about products we didn't think were of any concern," he adds, per the Journal. "You can't demand companies to have clairvoyance." (More US Supreme Court stories.)

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