It has not been an easy spring for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the brightest target on the radar when it comes to enforcing the $246 billion master settlement that the country’s major cigarette manufacturers signed with 46 states in 1998. In the past two months, Reynolds has been fined $35 million by California judges for print advertising and event promotions that reached too many kids.
First, Los Angeles Judge Richard Aragon fined Reynolds $15 million in May for handing out cigarettes at public events attended by children. The judge found that Reynolds distributed more than 100,000 free packs of smokes at six events in California between 1999 and 2000. The company says the state was aware of Reynolds’ presence at the events, and that the cigarettes were given out at booths reserved for people age 21 and older.
Then in June, San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager fined Reynolds $20 million for advertising in magazines that are read by a disproportionate number of teens. The ruling is the first test of a vague clause in the master settlement stating that cigarette makers may not “take any action, directly or indirectly, to target youth.”
Reynolds responded, “It defies common sense for a court to find that Reynolds Tobacco’s placement of cigarette ads in magazines with a minimum of 75 percent adult readership targets kids simply because they might see the publication.”
While some tobacco companies will not advertise in magazines with more than 15 percent readership among 12- to 17-year-olds, Reynolds’ self-imposed standard is 25 percent.
The agreement does not set a specific standard, and Prager’s ruling is the first to provide a guide for enforcement of the clause.
“It’s going to have a huge impact on how tobacco looks at their markets, and I believe tobacco [companies] … are going to have to pull back advertising in these magazines,” said American Lung Association of California spokesman Paul Knepprath. “Does that mean they’re going to pull up their stakes and go away? Not a chance. They will find a way to market their products to kids and young adults. This is just another challenge to them.”
One way they have found, says the American Legacy Foundation, is to create smoking prevention campaigns. In a study that was released by the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) last month, Legacy said that Phillip Morris’ “Think. Don’t Smoke” campaign actually increased its audiences’ likelihood of smoking when compared to youth exposed to Legacy’s “truth” campaign.
“Tobacco companies should not be engaged in marketing research among teens or smoking prevention programs. It is an obvious conflict of interest,” said Legacy’s chief operating officer, Lyndon Haviland.
Another study released in June indicates that tobacco companies are aware of this conflict. Examining internal documents from Phillip Morris, researchers found that the list of criteria for success of its youth smoking prevention programs included a “reduction in legislation introduced and passed restricting or banning our sales” and the “passage of legislation favorable to the industry.” (See “Report Roundup,” page 40.)