Camel ads draw lawsuit

Reynolds broke vow, targeted kids with cartoons, eight states say

December 05, 2007|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,SUN REPORTER

The attorneys general of Maryland and seven other states filed lawsuits yesterday against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the nation's second-largest cigarette maker, accusing it of violating its vow not to entice children to smoke by using cartoons in its marketing campaigns.

The states' top law enforcement officials focused their ire on a lighthearted, nine-page illustrated advertisement for Camel cigarettes in the November issue of Rolling Stone magazine that they said was designed with children and adolescents in mind.

"Reynolds is doing exactly what it agreed not to do - use cartoons and distribute brand merchandise," Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said in a statement released by his office.

Gansler said he had filed the multimillion-dollar suit after Reynolds' "blatant violation" of a 1998 consent decree - part of a legal settlement between state governments and the tobacco industry - that prohibited the use of cartoons and brand merchandise in the marketing of its products. The latest suit was filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court and seeks sanctions of at least $2.5 million.

Seven other states - Pennsylvania, New York, California, Washington, Ohio, Illinois and Connecticut - filed similar suits against Reynolds.

In court documents, Gansler says that Reynolds used the cartoons in a special advertising section for Camel cigarettes on the theme of independent rock music in the Nov. 15 Rolling Stone, a 40th-anniversary edition of the magazine. As part of the "Indie Rock Universe" advertising campaign, Reynolds included a poster and, by mail, distributed a music CD called Camel: The Farm; Free Range Music - Fresh Picked Music Volume 1, featuring the music of the band Bayside.

"The only way to reach the `Indie Rock Universe' poster is to literally go through the two folded pages that bear the Camel brand name," the lawsuit filed by Gansler says.

Pennsylvania's attorney general, Tom Corbett, said in a statement that Reynolds' advertising spread in Rolling Stone was "filled with cartoons" and "flies in the face of their pledge to halt all tobacco marketing to children."

The cigarette ads in the magazine tout "free range rock" and support for independent record labels. The ads are accompanied by photographic images of people in 1950s dress, a tinted picture of a woman with a bird perched on her head, farm animals, an old tractor and a phonograph against a backdrop of a farm. There are images of flaming guitars and space ships.

David Howard, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds at its headquarters in Winston-Salem, N.C., told the Associated Press that the Camel ads contained no cartoons. While the company was surprised and concerned by the illustrations produced by Rolling Stone, he said, R.J. Reynolds bore no responsibility for them.

"Had we been aware of the graphics prepared by Rolling Stone, we would not have advertised adjacent to the gatefold," Howard told the news agency. He could not be reached for comment by The Sun.

The attorneys general, in their lawsuits, anticipated the company's argument.

"Reynolds may claim that it neither created nor directed," Maryland's lawsuit says. But such a claim is baseless, the suit contends, in view of the consent decree's stipulation that permanently enjoins Reynolds from "using or causing to be used" any cartoon in advertising or promoting its cigarettes.

The lawsuits seek removal of the images from all Web sites and promotions and a payment by R.J. Reynolds equal to the cost of the Rolling Stone advertisement, to be used for anti-smoking ads.

Gansler asked the court to permanently enjoin Reynolds from further distribution of the CDs and cartoon images in any form and to pay sanctions of no less than $100 for each magazine and CD distributed in Maryland, and for each "hit" by a Marylander on Reynolds' "Farm Rocks" Web site.

In addition, Gansler asked the court to order Reynolds to place one full-page, anti-smoking ad in Rolling Stone for every page of the Camel ad, and to remove all remaining issues of the Nov. 15 edition of the magazine and the CD from retail locations and distribution outlets in Maryland.

Gansler said that the 1998 settlement agreed to by tobacco companies "contains stringent anti-youth marketing provisions" and that the Rolling Stone ads violate the agreement.

"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," Gansler said.

Matthew L. Myers, president of the Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said that his organization "applauds the eight state attorneys general who today have taken quick and aggressive action to stop R.J. Reynolds' unscrupulous new marketing campaign for Camel cigarettes that clearly appeals to youth."

The Reynolds tobacco company was founded by R.J. Reynolds in 1874. For years, its most visible marketing symbol was Joe Camel, the mascot for its Camel brand.

A study published in 1991 in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that more children 5 and 6 years old could recognize Joe Camel than could recognize Mickey Mouse or Fred Flintstone.

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