SAN DIEGO, CA -- June 14, 2002 -- A San Diego Superior Court Judge fined R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. $20 million for targeting teenagers in its cigarette advertising campaigns (State of California v. R.J. Reynolds Company, June 6, 2002). Under the terms of a 1998 national settlement with major tobacco companies, R.J. Reynolds (RJR) had agreed to refrain from taking "any action, directly or indirectly, to target youth." The company violated that agreement, Judge Ronald Prager wrote, by advertising in magazines such as Hot Rod, Rolling Stone, and Sports Illustrated, which have a high number of young readers.
RJR made no changes in its marketing strategy after the settlement was reached, according to the court, and failed to track whether it was reducing youth smoking. Instead, the maker of the popular cigarette brands Camel, Winston, and Salem, exposed teenagers to advertising at levels very similar to those of adult smokers.
"When hundreds of your customers die every day, the only way to stay in business is to hook new ones," California Attorney General Bill Lockyer commented about RJR and the California lawsuit. "But targeting children in your quest for new consumers is unlawful, shameful and will not be tolerated in California."
Other California Tobacco Lawsuits Against RJR
RJR has been the subject of other recent California tobacco lawsuits. In May, 2002, a Los Angeles court fined the company $14.8 million for illegally handing out more than 100,000 packs of free cigarettes on public grounds. In December, 2001, a court found RJR had violated the 1998 settlement agreement by posting outdoor advertising at sporting events. And in January 2001, a settlement was reached between the state of California and RJR based on charges that the company distributed free cigarettes through the mail without first properly verifying the identify and age of recipients.