It is difficult to separate Thanksgiving Day from the beginning of the Christmas season, and many of us don't have a problem with that. From Black Friday specials to the Macy's Christmas-themed Thanksgiving parade to the countless number of holiday-focused commercials, Thanksgiving operates as the first day of Christmas for the majority of advertisers and consumers.

And everyone is sending messages of holiday cheer this time of year — well, everyone except Big Tobacco.

This holiday season, Big Tobacco's message diverges greatly from the usual festivities. After 11 years of legal appeals, Nov. 26 saw the first court-ordered ads from Big Tobacco. The sobering message? "Despite what we said before, tobacco kills." It's that simple.

Lorillard (Newports, Mavericks), R.J. Reynolds Tobacco (Camels, Winstons) and Altria (Marlboros, Virginia Slims) formerly Philip Morris USA all launched ad campaigns that begin this week. Newspaper ads will be published for four months, and television spots will run for a year.

There was quite a protracted legal battle, costing tobacco companies millions of dollars, to render this public health message. An initial racketeering lawsuit against tobacco companies began in 1999. Organizations that signed onto the lawsuit include The American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, National African American Tobacco Prevention Network and the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund.

In 2006, a judge from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in a 1,683-page opinion, ruled that companies misled the public about tobacco's health risks including secondhand smoke's negative health effects while also advertising to children.

At that time, tobacco companies appealed the ruling. In 2009, a three-judge panel upheld the decision that claimed tobacco companies are liable, through false advertising, for smokers' ill health.

Citizens' groups and the Department of Justice sought a variety of remedies for a smoking epidemic that kills 7 million people worldwide, including 38,000 Americans, every year. The three-judge panel did not uphold all of the suggested remedies, but it did make a groundbreaking decision: The four largest tobacco companies will be paying to tell us the medical truth about their products. Finally, after an 18-year legal battle.

The ads deliver honest public health messages. One ad claims: "More people die every year from smoking than murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes, and alcohol, combined." "Cigarette companies intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction," explains another ad.

Ads or no ads, warnings or no warnings, quitting smoking is difficult. Despite tobacco companies' longtime denials, public awareness has come a long way since the 1950s when cigarette ads suggested that smoking was part of a dynamic, healthy, care-free, prosperous and confident lifestyle.

Many people today consciously know that smoking can lead to an earlier death, but they have trouble quitting. Tobacco companies know this addictive cycle well.

According to the American Heart Association, nicotine is highly addictive: "Cigarettes contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance found naturally in tobacco. It travels quickly to the brain when it is inhaled and can cause a feeling of temporary relaxation and/or stress relief. Nicotine can also elevate your mood and your heart rate."

Cigarettes' stress-relieving effects wear off quickly, leading the smoker down the path of having another and another.

Despite the permanent availability of cigarettes, and their highly addictive attributes, one fact stands out here: New potential smokers, children previously targeted by Big Tobacco, may encounter these ads and identify smoking as a negative behavior from the beginning. For some nicotine addicts, the ads may also serve as a motivating final nail in this deadly habit's coffin.

Those seeking retribution against Big Tobacco's decades-long track record can rest easy that companies are now paying more in real dollars and reputations. Add to this more rulings, like the $1.5 million that Phillip Morris and R.J. Reynolds have been recently court-ordered to pay for a Florida smoker's lung cancer death, and we may be witnessing a new era in the tobacco accountability wars.

Only time will tell how these ad campaigns will affect overall health statistics and the companies' bottom lines. Until then, keep your eye out for a different kind of ad this holiday season. The implied message? "Lighting up" should be for decorating purposes only.