Cigarette maker to limit marketing effort, donate $1.46 million as part of settlement

October 07, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

The maker of Kool cigarettes have agreed to curtail a hip hop-themed marketing campaign and donate $1.46 million to anti-smoking causes to settle a lawsuit brought by Maryland and two other states.

Maryland sued Brown & Williamson Corp. in July, claiming that a campaign for the mentholated Kool brand was aimed at minors in violation of a 1998 master settlement agreement between tobacco companies and most states. The company has since been acquired by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

"As the nation's leading cause of preventable death, tobacco kills over 45,000 African-Americans each year," Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said in a statement announcing the settlement.

"This campaign targeted a hip-hop audience, including youth," Curran said. "I hope this settlement sends a strong message that kids are off-limits for tobacco companies."

New York and Illinois also filed lawsuits against the Kool tactics, which included the distribution of CD-ROMS with hip-hop music and games and the sponsorship of DJ mixing competitions that attracted teens.

The company has agreed to change its packaging and stop using hip-hop songs on CDs, among other restrictions.

"This is the first time that the industry has agreed to marketing limitations that are even stricter than those set forth" in the master settlement, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said in a statement.

The $1.46 million payment will be divided among not-for-profit organizations, including the federal Centers for Disease Control. Maryland could apply to the groups for grants, said Kevin Enright, a Curran spokesman.

The company did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement, which awaits court approval.

"The agreement satisfies the questions raised by the three attorneys general without unduly restricting R.J. Reynolds' ability to effectively communicate with the only audience we have been and continue to be interested in communicating with: adult smokers," said Charles A. Blixt, executive vice president and general counsel of R.J. Reynolds.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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