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Warner Douses Smoking Promo

British American Tobacco cigarettes were handed out to viewers of the studio's movies in Nigeria.

March 05, 2003|James Bates | Times Staff Writer

Warner Bros. is fuming over an unauthorized cigarette promotion tied to a traveling movie tour in Nigeria featuring five of its films.

The promotion ended this year. But the Burbank studio, a unit of AOL Time Warner Inc., says it was blindsided and has sent cease-and-desist letters to British American Tobacco, whose Rothmans brand was featured, as well as businesses involved in the screenings.

"This is not something that we would ever condone," Warner spokeswoman Barbara Brogliatti said. "These folks did not have the right to do this."

The promotion, Rothmans Experience It Cinema Tour, involved a temporary domed theater that traveled through six Nigerian cities for 12 weeks.

The theater featured high- quality film and sound equipment usually lacking in Nigeria. Titles were "Ocean's Eleven," "The Matrix," "Collateral Damage," "Romeo Must Die" and "Showtime."

Screenings were limited to viewers 18 and over, and promotional cigarettes were handed out to those inside, BAT press relations manager David Betteridge said.

Betteridge said the company bought the rights to screen the films in good faith last spring from Warner Nu Metro in South Africa, the film studio's distributor there. But, he said, Warner later informed BAT that the distributor had no right to license the films to the roadshow.

"The prints have been returned," Betteridge said. "That was the end of it."

The unauthorized promotion was brought to the studio's attention by anti-tobacco activists. "We've seen a lot of promotions, but this one seemed particularly outrageous," said Anna White, coordinator of Essential Action's Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control program.

London-based British American Tobacco, the world's second-largest tobacco company, bought Rothmans in 1999. The company's best-known brands include Kent, Lucky Strike, Dunhill, Pall Mall and Kool.

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