California’s Attorney-General Accuses Cigarette Companies of Reneging on Youth Ad Pledge

15 August 2001

Three of America’s dominant four tobacco companies – Brown & Williamson, Lorillard and R J Reynolds – have been slammed by California’s attorney-general Bill Lockyer for violating a written pledge to cease advertising in magazines with a high youth readership.

The pledge was part of a deal struck in 1998 between the four companies and a number of US states acting in concert.

The agreement signed by the quartet – the fourth memeber of which was Philip Morris – bound them to withdraw advertising from all magazines whose under-18 readership amounted to 15% (or more than two million) of the total. Only Philip Morris has complied.

As a consequence Lockyer has issued a writ against R J Reynolds and the attorneys-general of Oregon, New York, Ohio and Washington have followed suit. A date for the trial is expected to be set this week.

The three non-compliers are violating their undertaking not to “take any action directly or indirectly to target youth” in the “advertising, promotion or marketing of tobacco products,” Lockyer accuses. “Reynolds and the other companies agreed not to market to kids, and based on our surveys, they still are.”

But the tobacco titans see the issue in a different light, insisting that the limitations they agreed in 1998 were guidelines only, not laws. They interpret ‘adult’ differently from Lockyer and his fellow attorneys-general.

Says Reynolds spoke Jan Smith: “We do not advertise in magazines that target minors. We only advertise in magazines that are read by adults." The crux of her argument centers on the last three words.

A magazine’s readership is regarded as ‘adult’, explained Smith, if less than 25% of its readership is under 18 – or if that data is unavailable, the median age of the readers must be twenty-three.

Lockyer is not impressed by the rationale and says the companies have a compelling reason to flout their pledge: “They kill their customers every year and they need to recruit new ones."

News source: New York Times