Tobacco Co. Surveys Moviegoers
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Brown & Williamson surveyed moviegoers at screenings of ``The Insider'' over the weekend in the Twin Cities and seven other markets, possibly preparing for a lawsuit against the film's producer.
Walt Disney Studio's Touchstone Pictures produced ``The Insider,'' the story of whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand, former head of research at the tobacco company, and the efforts of a ``60 Minutes'' producer to air Wigand's accusations. Wigand accused the company of manipulating nicotine levels in cigarettes and lying to Congress about nicotine's addictive power.
On Saturday night at Loews Cineplex in Edina, a woman passed out cards to patrons in the concessions line, asking that they call a toll-free number and ``answer a few important questions'' about the film. Patrons also were approached inside the Highland Theater in St. Paul.
Neither the card nor the recorded survey revealed that the survey was done for the cigarette company.
``We didn't want to bias them by telling them who was commissioning the survey,'' said Mark Smith, a Brown & Williamson spokesman. Besides Minneapolis-St. Paul, moviegoers were surveyed in New York; Washington; Los Angeles; Miami; Macon, Ga.; and Louisville, Ky., he said.
Survey respondents were asked such questions as, ``Based on how events were depicted in `The Insider,' do you believe that Brown & Williamson Tobacco threatened Jeffrey Wigand or his family with physical harm?'' and, ``After seeing this movie, do you have a more favorable or less favorable impression of Brown & Williamson Tobacco?''
Marc Pascucci, senior vice president of marketing with Loews Cineplex United States in New York, was startled to learn about the survey.
``If an outside company wanted to poll our customers on a busy night, there'd be a cost involved,'' Pascucci said. ``But in this case I wouldn't have allowed it, because we're partners with (film distributor) Buena Vista and producers of the film. We're not going to make it easy for anyone who's working against them.''
Geoffrey Ammer, co-president of Buena Vista Pictures Marketing, said the survery was ``set up so that it can be skewed by Brown & Williamson and others in the tobacco industry to generate the desired outcome, by having employees and other members repeatedly call the number.''
The movie opened Friday and grossed $7 million over the weekend.
Smith said Brown & Williamson undertook the survey to gauge the damage that the film has caused his company.
``We're trying to get a feel of the public perception of the movie and our company and how we're portrayed in the movie, because the film clearly suggested that Brown & Williamson threatened Jeffrey Wigand,'' said Steve Kottak, Brown & Williamson manager of public affairs. ``We didn't threaten him or his family in any way. We didn't send threatening messages, or put a bullet in his mailbox, as the film suggests.''
Kottak said the tobacco company's attorneys will study the film to see whether there are grounds for a lawsuit.
Richard Daynard, a law professor at Northeastern University of Law and chairman of the Tobacco Products Liability Project in Boston, said: ``Brown & Williamson has used the courts aggressively to try to keep the truth about the company's behavior from becoming public. This (survey) is clearly part and parcel of that long-term campaign.''