Nation's largest smokeless tobacco company accused of targeting youth in advertising
WASHINGTON -- The nation's largest smokeless tobacco company is violating a 1998 legal settlement by targeting children in its ads, lawmakers who cited a study by Massachusetts health officials said.
U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. spent $9.4 million last year on advertising in magazines that have substantial number of young readers, up from $3.6 million in 1997, according to the report released Tuesday by the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program.
"These results are troubling and indicate to us that UST is not in compliance with the agreement it signed with the state attorneys general," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Sen. Richard Durban, D-Ill., said in a letter sent Tuesday to the National Association of Attorneys General. UST Inc. is the holding company for U.S. Smokeless Tobacco.
The lawmakers urged the attorneys general to take legal action against the Greenwich, Conn.-based company, which makes the snuff brands Copenhagen and Skoal.
Richard Verheij, the company's general counsel, said he was confident the manufacturer had not violated the agreement it signed in 1998.
"We're very comfortable with the publications that we selected," Verheij said.
He said he would review the report and the lawmakers' objections but maintained the company had to communicate with adults.
"Nobody wants youth to use the product," he said. "We still have a right to market the product to adults, and we assume nobody would object to that."
U.S. Smokeless Tobacco is the only smokeless manufacturer that, like the major cigarette manufacturers, reached a settlement with the states regarding health costs incurred by Medicaid programs.
The settlement does not mention magazine advertising but includes a ban on the companies taking "any action, directly or indirectly, to target youth within any settling state in the advertising, promotion or marketing of tobacco products."
The Massachusetts study found that U.S. Smokeless Tobacco ran ads in nine magazines that either have more than 2 million youth readers or magazines in which young people made up at least 15 percent of the readership.
The nation's largest cigarette manufacturer, Philip Morris, stopped advertising in such magazines about two years ago after it was accused of targeting kids. Gregory Connolly, director of the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program, said U.S. Smokeless Tobacco should do the same.
"In our opinion, the data shows their advertising clearly targets youth," Connolly said.
He accused the company of going after certain teens by advertising in magazines such as Sports Illustrated and Hot Rod. "That (advertising) money is certainly a target to high-risk young males who either associate smokeless with playing baseball or driving fast cars," Connolly said.
The other magazines in which the company's ads appeared and which have many young readers are Rolling Stone, Motor Trend, Sporting News, Sport, TV Guide, Popular Science and Spin, according to the report. Verheij says the company has subsequently pulled its ads from Rolling Stone for business reasons.
U.S. Smokeless Tobacco is not the only company facing this kind of criticism. California is suing R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. for marketing to teens and has cited the company's magazine ads in the suit.