WASHINGTON — Five states announced plans Monday to sue R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., contending the company has violated a promise to stop marketing to youngsters.
In county courthouses in Arizona, California, Ohio, New York and Washington, state officials are alleging violations of different aspects of the master settlement agreement signed by the major tobacco companies and the states. They're asking that the courts come up with a punishment.
"We've mediated tobacco issues large and small," said Betty Montgomery, Ohio's attorney general. "Today the attorneys general are sending a unified message that we will not tolerate the marketing strategies of old that targeted our children."
Four states, Arizona, California, New York and Washington, want the company to remove Winston Cup billboards after a NASCAR race has been run instead of leaving them up at tracks on the Winston Cup circuit throughout the racing season.
The agreement allowed signs to stay up for 10 days after "the last sponsored event." Reynolds said its signs comply with that rule.
A second California complaint addresses ads in Rolling Stone, Spin, Sports Illustrated and other magazines with wide readership among youths.
Reynolds said its policy is to advertise in magazines with a readership that is at least 75 percent adult.
"We do not and will not advertise in magazines that specifically target minors," said Charles Blixt, the company's executive vice president and general counsel.
Ohio's suit takes issue with matchbooks bearing the Winston logo, saying they should be banned along with other logo merchandise.
Blixt said matchbooks are a way to target adults, "because matchbooks are typically provided to adult smokers when and where they purchase cigarettes."
Reynolds said it has taken its ads off billboards, taxis, buses, lighters, shirts, caps and other apparel, in compliance with the terms it accepted in November 1998.
The new lawsuits, the company said, "would not resolve youth smoking issues but would severely and unnecessarily restrict legitimate competition for adult smokers' business."
The attorney general of Oklahoma, Drew Edmondson, issued a statement saying other tobacco companies were willing to negotiate over policies to expose fewer children to their advertisements, but talks with RJR yielded nothing.
"Reynolds is the only major tobacco company that has employed these practices in marketing its addictive and deadly products since the Master Settlement Agreement was concluded," said Edmondson.
Edmondson heads the National Association of Attorneys General's tobacco committee, where the states that weren't satisfied with the execution of the agreement decided their lawsuit strategy.
Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said, "They are still targeting and they are still addicting our children."
On the Net: National Association of Attorneys General tobacco links: www.naag.org/tobaccopublic/library.cfm
R.J. Reynolds tobacco policy: www.rjr.com/TI/Pages/TIcover.asp