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California Sues R.J. Reynolds Over Free Cigarettes

May 12, 2000|From Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — The state filed a lawsuit Thursday against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. for distributing free cigarette samples to Californians in violation of a prior agreement.

The suit filed in San Diego Superior Court, alleges R.J. Reynolds mailed an estimated 900,000 packs of free cigarettes to 115,000 Californians in 1999.

Attorney General Bill Lockyer claims the company violated the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement that bans free samples in California except for consumer testing programs and coupon-style offers. The ban was intended to keep tobacco companies from using marketing strategies that target minors, according to a statement from Lockyer's office.

The case, which seeks to halt the distribution of free samples, is scheduled to go before San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Prager on July 10.

The lawsuit claims the company failed to certify the names of recipients or verify that they were at least 18 years old. The lawsuit also alleges R.J. Reynolds distributed cigarettes to people who had not agreed to receive them at home and did not take steps to ensure the tobacco reached the intended recipients.

Lockyer said he repeatedly advised the company to halt mailing the free samples but the company refused to do so.

A telephone call seeking comment from the company in Winston-Salem, N.C., rang unanswered after business hours Thursday.

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