The state of California has filed suit against R J Reynolds Tobacco Holdings, alleging that the US tobacco giant is deliberately targeting its ads at teenagers in violation of the $206 billion legal settlement between the tobacco industry and various state governments in 1998.

In particular, the suit names RJR’s Winston, Camel and other cigarette brands, claiming that they have “continuously and systematically targeted youth” with the placement of “large numbers” of ads in magazines, among them Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone, read by a “substantial” number of teenagers.

Although the 1998 settlement makes no specific reference to curtailment of magazine advertising, it includes a blanket ban on “any action, directly or indirectly, to target youth" in the promotion of cigarettes. California is asking the court to impose unspecified "monetary sanctions" and compel Reynolds to abandon such advertising practices.

The California action is the first to raise the issue directly, although "there are some questions about what this means," according to senior assistant attorney general Dennis Eckhart, responsible for tobacco enforcement. "Reynolds is out of step," charges Eckhart. "What they're doing is not acceptable. We want to minimize, as much as we can, the impact of their ads on minors."

But Reynolds insists it complies not only with the letter of the settlement agreement but also with its spirit. Executive vp Tommy Payne says that California’s action is “basically … an effort to renegotiate the master settlement agreement through the courts."

News source: Wall Street Journal