Lorillard Plans to Sue Over Anti-Tobacco Ad Campaign
Lorillard Tobacco Co. has "officially notified" the American Legacy Foundation that the company plans to file suit in 30 days to stop the foundation's "hard-hitting" anti-smoking advertising campaign, the Wall Street Journal reports (Fairclough, Wall Street Journal, 1/23). In a letter sent to the foundation last Friday, Ronald Milstein, general counsel for Lorillard, said that the foundation had "exceeded its mandate" under the 1998 national tobacco settlement by "vilifying and personally attacking tobacco companies and their employees" in the ad campaign (Stamler, New York Times, 1/23). The settlement, which established the foundation to "educate the public about the dangers of smoking," prohibits "any personal attack on, or vilification of," individuals, companies or government agencies. The notice, required under the settlement, asks for a "change in the nature" of the foundation's "Truth" ad campaign, a series of radio, television and print ads (Wall Street Journal, 1/23). However, the Times reports that Lorillard "has made it clear" that the company "mainly objects" to a radio ad aired last year (New York Times, 1/23). In the ad, an individual who identifies himself as a dog walker calls Lorillard's offices and offers to provide the company with "quality dog urine," which contains urea, one of the "chemicals you guys put into cigarettes" (Wall Street Journal, 1/23). After the ad aired, Lorillard filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, "claiming it was improper for American Legacy to have taped Lorillard employees surreptitiously," Steve Watson, a Lorillard spokesperson, said.
American Legacy took the dog walker ad "out of rotation" and, until last week, had held discussions with Lorillard officials about the ad, the Times reports. However, Watson said that "it became clear" the foundation "was not concerned about educating parents and children but instead vilifying tobacco companies and their employees." Cheryl Healton, president of the foundation, said, "We have some ads that are edgy. But it's an enormous stretch to call them vilification." Healton added that Lorillard's complaint represents a "smoke screen" (New York Times, 1/23). According to Healton, Lorillard hopes to "curb the 'truth' campaign because it is working to help reduce smoking." She added that "the foundation is just doing its job: providing information about the contents of cigarettes and smoking's grave health consequences that is packaged in a way that will get teenagers to sit up and take notice" (Wall Street Journal, 1/23). Christine Gregoire, chair of the foundation and attorney general for the state of Washington, said that the "legal consequences" of Lorillard's notice to the foundation "are far from clear." The notice marks the first served under the national tobacco settlement, which includes 46 states, and according to Gregoire, Lorillard may have to "sue in all of those states." In addition, she described the issue in the notice as "highly subjective," pointing out that Lorillard "is not seeking money damages, but rather wants a declaratory judgement holding" that the foundation's ads "have gone too far." The Times reports that the foundation still plans to run the "Truth" ads (New York Times, 1/23).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.