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8 states sue over Camel cartoons

December 05, 2007|Marc Lifsher | Times Staff Writer

Anti-smoking activists Tuesday praised the attorneys general of California and seven other states for suing cigarette maker R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. for allegedly violating the terms of a decade-old agreement banning the use of cartoon characters in advertisements.

The California complaint was filed in San Diego County Superior Court. It targets an editorial feature with accompanying advertising touting the sponsorship of Reynolds' Camel brand of cigarettes for the "Farm Rocks" independent music campaign.

The nine-page layout was published in a 40th anniversary issue of Rolling Stone magazine dated Nov. 15.

The 1998 multi-state agreement between various states and tobacco companies expressly bans Reynolds' use of its iconic Joe Camel dromedary. It also more broadly "prohibits using cartoons to promote cigarettes, regardless of whether such cartoons target youth," the California lawsuit says.

Similar suits were filed in state courts in Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington.

R.J. Reynolds countered that it did not violate the multi-state agreement. David Howard, a spokesman for Winston-Salem, N.C.-based R.J. Reynolds, said the printed cartoons were created by Rolling Stone artists and designers working independently of Reynolds' advertising executives.

"In our opinion, what's at issue is the editorial content, and Rolling Stone in a letter said we had no control over it," Howard said.

Rolling Stone Publisher Ray Chelstowski said many of the charges by the state attorneys general "seem far-fetched," noting that the editorial content promoted an independent music Web page and not smoking.

Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington, said the joint action by the states "represents the aggressive enforcement action needed to put teeth in the tobacco settlement's prohibition on marketing to youth, including its prohibition on the use of cartoons."

The California lawsuit asks that a "significant sanction should be assessed" based on "the aggressive and blatant nature of the Farm Rocks campaign, and its integral use of cartoons in cigarette advertising." It called the Rolling Stone advertisement "a clear-cut violation" of the 1998 legal agreement. California is seeking more than $2.5 million in damages.

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marc.lifsher@latimes.com

The Associated Press was used in compiling this report.

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