Lorillard Says It's Getting Burned By New Antismoking Radio Spot
Lorillard Tobacco is fighting to get a new antismoking ad taken off the airwaves, calling it "false and misleading."
The radio spot -- part of the American Legacy Foundation's national campaign to keep kids from lighting up -- is one of a series that features teen actors placing calls to actual tobacco companies. In it, a person identifying himself as a dog walker phones Lorillard and tells the operator that he wants to sell the company "quality dog urine" since it is "full of urea," one of the "chemicals that you guys put into cigarettes."
Lorillard, a unit of Loews Corp., says it doesn't add urea to cigarettes. The chemical occurs naturally in tobacco leaves, it says. The maker of Newport cigarettes also attacked American Legacy for recording a conversation with employees without their knowledge and then broadcasting it.
In a letter sent to American Legacy last week, Lorillard said it is prepared to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. The company also called a radio station in its home state of North Carolina to object to the ad. The station, WBBB in Raleigh, stopped airing the spot. "We think this ad goes beyond the bounds of responsible, ethical and educational advertising," says Steven C. Watson, a Lorillard spokesman.
Cheryl Healton, chief executive of American Legacy, says: "I'm not surprised, but I'm disappointed" with Lorillard's opposition to the ads. She says the nonprofit organization broke no laws and did nothing unethical in recording the ad or airing it. American Legacy, based in Washington, was created as part of the 1998 settlement between the tobacco industry and state attorneys general to run a national antismoking campaign.
"The American public is thoroughly uneducated about the extent to which dangerous chemicals are added to an already dangerous product," Dr. Healton says, adding that the spot aims to help change that. But she acknowledges the foundation was "in a fairly awkward position," since tobacco companies are not required to list ingredients on cigarette packs.
Dr. Healton says that in identifying urea the foundation relied on a list published by the tobacco industry that catalogs substances added to cigarettes but doesn't break them down by company or brand. She says internal Lorillard documents that have become public as a result of court cases show that the company experimented with urea as an additive as recently as the mid-1990s.
Urea, found in the urine and other body fluids of mammals, also is produced synthetically and used in foods, plastics and fertilizer. Tobacco-control advocates say cigarette makers use urea to change the pH of smoke, making it less harsh so that it can be inhaled more deeply.
Mr. Watson says Lorillard has never added urea to its cigarettes. And he says American Legacy's ad "vilifies" the company, something the foundation is not allowed to do under the terms of the state settlement. American Legacy says the ad doesn't amount to vilification.
American Legacy says the "Dog Walker" spot, which has run on more than 100 radio stations in the past month, will be phased out over the next week or two as it ends its run and new spots come on line. Among the new ads are spots targeting R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings and Philip Morris.
Ellen Merlo, a spokeswoman for Philip Morris, says the company supports the foundation's mission of educating people about the dangers of smoking. But, she says, "I can't for the life of me understand what these ads have to do with that. Some of them are out of the bounds of good taste."