Lorillard Threatens Suit Over Ads
CHARLOTTE, N.C. â€“â€“ The maker of an irreverent radio advertising campaign aimed at reducing youth smoking is condemning North Carolina-based Lorillard Tobacco Co. for putting it on notice that it plans to file a lawsuit to force it to change the ads.
In radio spots produced by the American Legacy Foundation, a person identifying himself as a dog walker phones Lorillard and tells the operator that he wants to sell the company "quality dog urine" because it is "full of urea," one of the "chemicals you guys put into cigarettes."
Lorillard claims it doesn't add urea to cigarettes, saying it is a substance found naturally in tobacco leaves.
Last week, a Lorillard attorney notified the American Legacy Foundation by letter that the company plans to take the issue to court, charging the group's anti-smoking ad campaign violates provisions of the $206 billion legal settlement between cigarette makers and 46 states.
As part of the 1998 settlement, American Legacy was created to organize a national effort to educate the public about the dangers of smoking.
The agreement prohibits the foundation from "any personal attack on, or vilification of," any person, company or government agency, wrote Lorillard general counsel, Ronald S. Milstein.
On Wednesday, Lorillard spokesman Steve Watson said the Greensboro-based company, a subsidiary of New York's Loews Corp., has not determined when or where it will file suit.
"What we are seeking is for a judge to make a declaratory judgment that would find the American Legacy Foundation in violation of the master settlement agreement," he said. "There has been a consistent and clear pattern on the part of ALF to personally attack our employees and vilify our company."
Watson said the ads are "false, misleading and unethical."
"It goes beyond the bounds of ethical and educational advertising and they need to be stopped," he said.
Watson said the two sides tried but failed to work out a settlement.
While other tobacco companies have attacked American Legacy ads, this is the first time one of them has threatened to take legal action.
Cheryl Healton, American Legacy's president, said the foundation had "not engaged in personal attacks or vilification of Lorillard or anyone else."
"I will not deny that (the) ads are edgy and hard-hitting," she said in remarks published on the foundation's Web site. "They use irreverent humor that adults may sometimes not understand. We do not apologize for this. Indeed, these are the very qualities that make the campaign effective."
Healton said the outcome of the case could be far-reaching.
"These are serious charges," she said. "If Lorillard succeeds in silencing the campaign, it would have tremendous repercussions on public health in our country and literally threaten the health and lives of millions of Americans."