BIG TOBACCO: Violating Settlement by Advertising to Kids?
State attorneys general have launched an "aggressive investigation" into whether tobacco companies violated a 1998 national tobacco settlement provision that prohibits advertising practices that "target youth," the Washington Post reports. For four months, attorneys general have been gathering evidence on what cigarette companies are advertising and where those advertisements are located. Washington state Attorney General Christine Gregoire (D) said that the investigation "could trigger lawsuits" should it determine that the advertisements were designed to lure teenagers. Tobacco companies agreed in 1998 to cease billboard advertising, as well as the "Joe Camel"-type ads that "many believed appealed primarily to young people." Further, they were restricted by the FDA from advertising in magazines where youth readership was more than 15%. Two studies released yesterday point to violations of that agreement. A Massachusetts Department of Public Health study found that 19 magazines with youth readership of 15% or more had a 33% increase in tobacco advertising during the first three quarters after the settlement. Similarly, an American Legacy Foundation study found that the number of young people tobacco ads reached has increased since the settlement. The study concluded that a majority of young people were exposed to tobacco advertising at least five times a year, a number that is considered "a high level of 'effective reach.'" Attorneys general also believe that R.J. Reynolds Co. violated the settlement by distributing free cigarettes "in a way that makes them available to children."
Abiding by the Law?
For their part, tobacco companies insist that they are following the agreement and have discontinued advertising in magazines with youth appeal. Exactly how to determine which magazines appeal to teenagers has been difficult for tobacco companies, but Philip Morris has proposed using "an independent, accurate third-party methodology" to do so (Kaufman, 5/18). Philip Morris will no longer advertise on the back cover of any magazine, according to spokesperson Tom Ryan. But Mark Smith, spokesperson for Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corp., expressed his frustration, saying, "There's nothing that a tobacco company can do that won't receive criticism from the special-interest groups that have their own political agenda" (Benjamin, AP/Houston Chronicle, 5/18).