OLYMPIA, Wash. (Legal Newsline)- Washington's Division One Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a cartoon image included in the Nov. 2007 ad campaign by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in Rolling Stone magazine was in violation of the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.
In doing so, the court overturned a June 2008 verdict in favor of the company, which ruled that the content didn't depict traditional cartoons and that the images were more thought-provoking than humorous. Tuesday's decision awarded the State attorneys fees and costs and remanded the case for damages.
Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna called the ruling a reminder of how committed the states are to enforcing the public health provisions of the MSA and prohibiting the illegal marketing of tobacco products.
"This lawsuit demonstrates, even 10 years later, states have not forgotten legacy of the Master Settlement Agreement," said the Republican AG, who recently served three years as co-chair of the National Association of Attorneys General Tobacco Committee.
"This is the kind of advertising that brought about the Master Settlement Agreement in the first place and this is one of the on-going legal commitments tobacco companies made to the states. We are holding them accountable."
Eight states -- Maine, Ohio, California, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Washington -- sued R.J. Reynolds after the ad ran.
The Maine and Ohio judges sided with the company and California came back with a split decision. A Pennsylvania judge became the first to hold Reynolds liable, ordering the company to pay $302,000 or run a full-page anti-smoking ad in Rolling Stone. The other states' lawsuits are still pending.
"This is a significant decision in that it's the first appellate court interpretation of the use of cartoons in tobacco advertising," said Senior Counsel Rene Tomisser, who argued the case and was recently promoted to section chief of the attorney general's Complex Litigation Section.
As of now, R.J Reynolds has not said if they would plan an appeal.