State challenges tobacco ads in youth-oriented magazines
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- A California judge has been asked to decide whether the nation's No. 2 tobacco firm violated a landmark 1998 settlement with 46 states by advertising in magazines popular with teen-agers.
The state Attorney General's office, which filed suit against R.J. Reynolds last year, has asked Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager to fine the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based company $25 million and ban it from advertising in 50 magazines read by teens.
Prager was expected to issue a ruling Thursday.
"This is the story of a company that refused over a long period to change its policies and practices as regards to teen exposure," Deputy Attorney General Karen Leaf said in closing arguments last month. "They have advertised in magazines very popular with teen-agers such as Motorcyclist, Hot Rod, and Spin."
The $206 billion tobacco settlement with 46 states makes no specific mention of magazine advertising but includes a ban on tobacco companies taking "any action, directly or indirectly, to target youth."
Lawyers for Reynolds contend that such a restriction on advertising would violate the company's First Amendment rights.
"They want you to hold us in contempt and fine us $20 million for exercising a constitutional right," attorney Jeh Charles Johnson told the judge last month. "In this country, that is censorship."
Attorneys for Reynolds denied that the company deliberately targeted teens in its $200 million magazine ad campaigns for Camel cigarettes and other brands following the 1998 settlement.
Reynolds said its intended targets are young adults. Company policy forbids ads in magazines with youth readership of more than 25 percent. However, Reynolds lawyers conceded that an unintended consequence of targeting young adults is that some teens are likely to see its ads.
Expert witnesses testifying for the state said teens were often more likely than adults to see Reynolds' advertising, suggesting that the company was exploiting a loophole to reach youths.
"They were doing a better job of reaching teens than reaching their stated young adult target," said Leaf. "Substantial youth exposure cannot be explained away as incidental."
Reynolds had U.S. sales of $8.6 billion in 2001. It has about 25 percent of the American market through brands that include Camel, Winston, Doral and Salem.