AGs suing R.J. Reynolds over 'deadly charm' of cartoons

John O'Brien Dec. 4, 2007, 12:53pm



BALTIMORE - Maryland is one of eight states that has decided to sue tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds over allegations that the company has violated certain advertising restrictions of 1998's Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler filed his suit in Baltimore City Circuit Court and is seeking $2.5 million in sanctions. He joins Pennsylvania's Tom Corbett, New York's Andrew Cuomo, California's Jerry Brown, Washington's Rob McKenna, Ohio's Marc Dann, Illinois' Lisa Madigan and Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal in suing the company.

They allege that R.J. Reynolds violated the agreement, which provided 46 states and six territories $246 billion as compensation for Medicaid costs attributed to tobacco use, when it used cartoons in a nine-page advertising section for Camel cigarettes. The section appeared in Nov. 15's Rolling Stone magazine, a 40th-anniversary edition.

The attorneys general also say RJR distributed a Camel music CD through the mail. The CD and its website use prohibited cartoons, Gansler says.

"Reynolds is doing exactly what it agreed not to do -- use cartoons and distribute brand merchandise," Gansler said. "The MSA contains stringent anti-youth marketing provisions and this type of advertising is a blatant violation of the MSA.

"Nine years after we thought we had seen an end to the predatory marketing practices of the old days, Reynolds continues to use the deadly charm of cartoons and merchandise to entice new customers."

Corbett added that he hopes the movement spreads.

"Our lawsuit is part of what we hope becomes a nationwide legal action seeking more than $100-million in sanctions against R.J. Reynolds for violating the cartoon ban," he said.

"Unfortunately, this is not new territory for R.J. Reynolds. When that tobacco settlement was created, the 'Joe Camel' advertising campaign was singled-out as especially offensive effort to market to children. Now, nearly a decade later, cartoons are still being used to promote the Camel brand."

Gansler wants Reynolds to have to take out nine full-page ads warning readers of the dangers of smoking, while being enjoined from further use and distribution of the CDs and cartoon images. He said a month before the section ran, representatives for several state attorneys general met with RJR officials to voice concerns over recent advertisements.

While providing billions of dollars for the states, the MSA also gave $14 billion to trial lawyers hired to represent the states. One of those is Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, who was recently indicted on charges that he conspired to attempt to bribe a state judge.

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