Jul. 23 2003
Washington, D.C. — A federal judge in San Francisco has acted appropriately in dismissing the absurd lawsuit filed by R.J. Reynolds (RJR) and Lorillard Tobacco Companies in their effort to silence California's highly successful tobacco prevention program. The two tobacco companies alleged that California's anti-smoking advertisements, which tell the truth about the tobacco industry's harmful practices and products, "vilify" them and violate their constitutional rights. The judge rightly found no merit to the charges.
This lawsuit was a colossal act of hypocrisy that shows once again that RJR and Lorillard cannot be taken seriously when they say they do not want kids to smoke. Instead of matching their words with action, the tobacco companies have a pattern of opposing effective state and national tobacco prevention programs, offering their own ineffective alternatives, and increasing their cigarette marketing in ways effective at addicting children. In addition to attacking the California program, the tobacco companies have challenged other successful state tobacco prevention programs – Philip Morris, for example, tried to silence some of Florida's ads – and Lorillard has filed a lawsuit against the American Legacy Foundation to undermine Legacy's effective "truth" youth anti-smoking advertising campaign. Lorillard should drop its malevolent lawsuit against the American Legacy Foundation, and the tobacco industry should stop its persistent attempts to undermine and scuttle effective state programs that are helping to reduce the tragic consequences of tobacco addiction.
While professing not to want kids to smoke, the tobacco companies increased their cigarette marketing expenditures by nearly 67 percent to a record $11.2 billion a year – $30.7 million a day – in the three years after promising in the 1998 state tobacco settlement to stop targeting kids, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Much of this increase was in ways that appeal to kids, including high-visibility store displays, price discounts that make cigarettes more affordable to kids, and free gifts with purchase. In addition, R.J. Reynolds last year was fined $20 million by a California judge for targeting kids with magazine advertising in violation of the 1998 settlement.
The failed attempt by RJR and Lorillard to derail California's prevention program underscores why California and other states must redouble their efforts to prevent our kids from starting to smoke and help adults quit through proven measures such as comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation programs, cigarette tax increases and smoke-free workplace policies. Every state should be using tobacco settlement and tobacco tax revenues to fully fund prevention and cessation programs at levels recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In California, legislators should support a public health proposal to increase the state cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack and dedicate 20 cents to fully fund the California Tobacco Control Program.