May. 2 2002
Washington, DC — A California judge has fined R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. nearly $15 million for violating a state law and engaging in marketing practices effective at reaching kids, including handing out free cigarettes at public events like street fairs and car races where children were present. This ruling is an important step in holding the tobacco industry accountable for continuing to engage in practices that entice kids to smoke. R.J. Reynolds engaged in these activities as recently as 1999 and 2000, showing that, despite their claims to the contrary, the tobacco companies have not changed since the November 1998 state tobacco settlement. The stiff fine levied against R.J. Reynolds shows that the judge considered the company's violations to be extremely serious.
We applaud California Attorney General Bill Lockyer for his leadership in enforcing California's laws aimed at limiting youth access to tobacco products. This ruling should spur government officials at all levels to carefully monitor the tobacco industry's activities and aggressively enforce laws and other measures, including the state tobacco settlement, that restrict tobacco marketing and sales to kids. State attorneys general in particular should pursue any violations by the tobacco industry of the settlement's prohibition on "any action, directly or indirectly, to target youth." Since the settlement, there has been growing evidence that the tobacco industry has systematically violated both the spirit and the intent of this prohibition on targeting youth through continued advertising in youth-oriented magazines, convenience stores, and other venues effective at reaching kids. In addition, this ruling sends a message to the U.S. Department of Justice that the evidence of continued tobacco industry marketing to kids is strong and the Justice Department should aggressively pursue its lawsuit against the tobacco industry.