Arizona and 18 other states take on R.J. Reynolds
PHOENIX - The Arizona Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit yesterday against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., claiming the tobacco giant violated terms of a multibillion dollar settlement by advertising year-round at two local race tracks.
The lawsuit comes as four other states announced plans yesterday to sue the tobacco giant. Officials in California, Ohio, New York and Washington are alleging violations of different aspects of the master settlement agreement signed by the major tobacco companies and the states.
The settlement agreement allows tobacco advertising 90 days before company-sponsored events and requires the advertisements to be removed within 10 days after the event.
The Arizona Attorney General's Office filed the lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court, claiming Reynolds advertises year-round for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series even though series races take place locally just once a year, said assistant attorney general Tim Nelson.
The NASCAR Winston Cup Series occurs each November at Phoenix International Raceway. The NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series occurs in February at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler.
"I think it comes down to a difference of opinion between R.J. Reynolds and the attorney general between the interpretation of one of the (master settlement agreement's) provisions," said Reynolds spokeswoman Maura Payne.
"We believe it relates to the entire racing series, not to one specific event in the series," she said.
Payne said because there is only a short gap between the beginning and end of the series, advertisements run "throughout the bulk of the year."
The Attorney General's Office documented with photos that the advertisements have been up since at least November, but "we believe they've probably been up since 1998," Nelson said.
"There are tons of big signs all over the place advertising the Winston Cup Series with the name Winston in there" at Phoenix International Raceway, Nelson said.
The name is displayed on the track's turns and appears to be permanently painted on the venue's grandstand, he said.
There also is a building that is called the Winston Pavilion at the Firebird International Raceway in Chandler, Nelson pointed out.
Before filing the lawsuit, a 30-day notice signed by Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano and 18 other states and Guam was sent to Reynolds regarding the complaint, said spokeswoman Pati Urias.
The notice was signed by attorneys general from Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah and Vermont.
California filed a lawsuit yesterday similar to Napolitano's and filed a second one contesting Reynolds' alleged advertising in publications with greater than 15 percent youth readership, Nelson said.