Calif. sues R.J. Reynolds over free cigarettes
SAN DIEGO, Calif., May 11 (Reuters) - California Attorney General Bill Lockyer on Thursday sued tobacco company R.J. Reynolds to prevent the firm from giving away free cigarettes in the state in violation of the terms of the national tobacco settlement.
According to the lawsuit, filed in San Diego Superior Court, the landmark 1998 settlement restricts the ability of tobacco companies to distribute free cigarettes in California unless it is part of a legitimate consumer testing programme.
``RJR has engaged in a massive programme to distribute free cigarettes to California residents through the mail ... mailing up to 10 packs of cigarettes to citizens at their homes, sometimes repeatedly to the same person,'' a statement from Lockyer's office said.
A spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. was not immediately available.
The lawsuit alleges that the tobacco giant mailed an estimated 900,000 packs of free cigarettes in multiple-pack mailings to the homes of 115,000 Californians in 1999.
``The action alleges that RJR distribution programme violates the terms of the MSA (Major Settlement Agreement) by, among other things, mailing samples to individuals who have not certified their name and that they are over the age of 18, distributing free packs of cigarettes to people who have not agreed to receive them at their home, and failing to employ procedures which reasonably ensure that the product will actually reach the intended recipient,'' the statement said.
A hearing on the lawsuit has been scheduled for July 10.
The statement said that Lockyer had made repeated demands to the company to stop the free mailings in California, but the company refused to do so.
The MSA, approved by the San Diego Superior Court in December, 1998, resolved lawsuits against the tobacco industry by California and 45 other states as well as the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories.
In addition to agreeing to pay the plaintiffs a total of more than $206 billion over 25 years, the tobacco companies also agreed to widespread restrictions on advertising, marketing and promotions.
In addition to banning distribution of free cigarettes the MSA also ended brand name sponsorship of concerts, sports meetings and other public events, media and outdoor advertising of tobacco products and using cartoons as advertising vehicles.