In a press release issued yesterday, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids alleges that R.J. Reynolds is violating the terms of a 2006 settlement the company reached with 40 state attorneys general regarding the marketing of flavored cigarettes. In a press release in response, R.J. Reynolds denied the allegations, arguing that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is plain wrong and is misrepresenting facts in order to promote the FDA tobacco legislation which it is championing.
According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' complaint: "In October 2006, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company entered into a settlement with state attorneys general to stop marketing candy, fruit and alcohol-flavored cigarettes. The states had asserted that RJR's marketing of flavored cigarettes violated the 1998 state tobacco settlement's prohibition on targeting youth. Now, barely seven months later, RJR is already trying to circumvent the settlement by introducing new flavored cigarettes in yet another marketing scheme that is likely to appeal to children. RJR has taken out a lavish ad in Cosmopolitan, a magazine with a high youth readership, to introduce its Camel Signature Blends cigarettes that come in Robust, Mellow, Frost and Infused flavors. RJR's web site describes Robust as "similar to notes found on cocoa and espresso"; Mellow as "accented with toasted honey"; Frost as "Fine Asian Mint ... while the creamy finish delivers a smooth, buttery aftertaste"; and Infused as offering "notes of Citrus" and "a sweet apple-like flavor." These products are also being advertised and sold in stores. While RJR claims its web site is age-restricted, kids will be fully exposed to the magazine and store ads that highlight the tempting new cigarette names and claims of "distinctive flavor."
According to R.J. Reynolds' statement: "The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' press release today alleging R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company is "circumventing" its 2006 agreement with state attorneys general is grossly inaccurate. The company requests that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids retract its statement. "Voicing an opinion is one thing; ignoring the facts to achieve your goals is just plain wrong," said Tommy Payne, executive vice president - public affairs for Reynolds American Inc. "These misrepresentations perpetuate an atmosphere of mistrust and conflict, and prevent any reasonable dialogue to resolve the issues that surround the tobacco industry." The agreement signed by 40 state attorneys general permits the marketing of specialty blends, like R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company's Camel Signature styles, while restricting the use of fruit, candy and alcohol descriptors in brand names or in non-age-restricted communications. Camel Signature is in full compliance with this agreement. "The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids seizes every opportunity to criticize tobacco manufacturers as part of their effort to advocate FDA regulatory authority over tobacco products," Payne said. "We support their right to do so but believe it requires full and fair disclosure of the facts so that people can draw their own objective conclusions."
The Rest of the Story
If this were 5 years ago, I probably would have assumed that in a battle between R.J. Reynolds and an anti-smoking group for the truth, the anti-smoking group would win hands down, so I would have concluded that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids was right without any further thought.
Today, however, after seeing the degree of deception and misrepresentation that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is capable of in promoting the FDA legislation, I thought this conflict warranted my own careful examination of the facts so that I could draw my own conclusion.
The first thing that became clear is that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids press release is inaccurate. The 2006 settlement between R.J. Reynolds and the attorneys general does not require the company "to stop marketing candy, fruit and alcohol-flavored cigarettes." What it requires is for the company to not use any candy, fruit, or alcohol terminology in brand names and not to use any such terminology or imagery in advertising that is accessible to minors. Thus, fruit terminology and imagery can be used on internet advertising if the site requires that users are adults.
For someone who relies solely on the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids press release for her information, it will seem like a slam-dunk case against RJR. The company agreed not to market fruit-flavored cigarettes, its "Infused" brand style advertises a citrus and apple flavor; thus, it is indeed marketing fruit-flavored cigarettes in violation of the settlement agreement.
However, the settlement does not ban the marketing of fruit-flavored cigarettes. Nor does it even ban the marketing of fruit-flavored cigarettes in venues in which youths may be exposed to that advertising. What it bans is the use of fruit names, terminology, and imagery in advertising to which youths may be exposed.
Let's examine the actual language of the settlement. The relevant clause is the following:
"In the event that Reynolds manufactures, markets, distributes, or sells Flavored Cigarettes specifically intended by Reynolds for distribution or sale in the United States, Reynolds agrees that with respect to its marketing of such Flavored Cigarettes:
(1) It will not use in the name of a brand style, (i) a Fruit or Candy, or (ii) the words “fruit,” “candy,” “sweet,” “sugar,” “citrus,” “tart,” “tangy,” or “cream,” or any extensions or variations of such words (e.g., “fruity,” “sweetened,” “creamy”).
(2) It will not use on the packaging visible to consumers before purchase, in print advertising, in point of sale advertising not located in an Adult-Only Facility, in direct mail or email promotions to individuals Reynolds has not reasonably determined to be an Adult, or in web-based advertising (excluding web-based advertising which is accessible to individuals Reynolds has reasonably determined to be an Adult), (i) a Fruit or a Candy, (ii) the words “fruit,” “candy,” “sweet,” “sugar,” “citrus,” “tart,” “tangy,” or “cream,” or any extensions or variations of these words, or (iii) images of a Fruit, a Candy, or other sweet desserts."
The advertisement in Cosmopolitan magazine which the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids alleges is in violation of this agreement uses the following names and language/imagery to describe the four advertised brand styles:
Robust - Camel Signature Robust is a lively blend with distinctive flavor.
Mellow - Camel Signature Mellow is deliciously smooth with sun-cured tobacco taste.
Frost - Camel Signature Frost is extremely cooling with a crisp, clean taste.
Infused - Camel Signature Infused is smooth and intriguing.
In terms of part 1 of the above clause, there is clearly no violation. The words “fruit,” “candy,” “sweet,” “sugar,” “citrus,” “tart,” “tangy,” or “cream,” or any extensions or variations of such words are not used, nor is there any fruit or candy used.
In terms of part 2 of the above clause, there is also no violation. The words “fruit,” “candy,” “sweet,” “sugar,” “citrus,” “tart,” “tangy,” or “cream,” or any extensions or variations of these words are not used, nor is there any fruit or candy used, nor is there any imagery relating to a fruit, candy, or other sweet desserts.
The words robust, mellow, frost, and infused are not fruits or candies, nor do they convey imagery of fruits or candies or other sweet desserts. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids might have a case if RJR used the word "frosting" and imagery related to frosting, since that could be construed as a sweet dessert.
The descriptions of these brand styles in the Cosmopolitan ad also fail to use any type of fruit, candy or dessert terminology or imagery. A lively blend with distinctive flavor is not a reference to a fruit, candy, or dessert. Neither is deliciously smooth with sun-cured tobacco taste. Neither is extremely cooling with a crisp taste. And neither is smooth and intriguing.
The other imagery used in the advertisement does not appear to represent or invoke any fruit, candy, or sweet dessert. There is a camel, leaves, and what appears to be smoke, but nothing that I can discern to be a fruit, candy, or dessert.
So it seems quite clear to me that the Cosmopolitan advertisement does not represent a violation of the 2006 settlement agreement. Let's turn to the store advertising.
The store advertising cited by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids as violating the settlement consists of pictures of the cigarette packaging for each of the 4 brand styles, with the words "Frost," "Infused," "Robust," and "Mellow." There is no additional terminology used. There is imagery on the packaging, but it does not appear to represent any fruit, candy, or sweet dessert. As above, the brand style descriptors themselves do not use or invoke fruit, candy, or dessert terminology or imagery. Therefore, the store advertising does not appear to represent a violation of the 2006 settlement agreement.
That leaves us with the RJR web site. The web site clearly does use fruit terminology and imagery, as it refers to notes of citrus and an apple-like flavor. This advertising would most clearly be in violation of the settlement agreement if it were to appear in a non-adult-restricted site. However, the settlement clearly states that this type of advertising is allowable on an adult-restricted web site: "excluding web-based advertising which is accessible to individuals Reynolds has reasonably determined to be an Adult."
The web site requires the user to certify that he or she is of legal age, and RJR claims to verify that the user is of legal age before granting access to the site; a username and password are required.
The certification states: "Certification: I certify that I am a legal age tobacco consumer; and that I want to receive in the mail offers, premiums, and/or coupons, as well as tobacco products that I may purchase. I understand that giving false information in order to accept these offers may constitute a violation of law. (Required)"
It certainly appears to me that this represents a reasonable determination that the user is an adult. Thus, the use of fruit terminology and imagery in this web-based advertising does not constitute a violation of the 2006 settlement agreement.
Perhaps the misunderstanding on the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' part is its apparent interpretation of the 2006 settlement as banning the advertising, in venues accessible to minors, of fruit-flavored cigarettes. What the settlement does is to ban the use of fruit terminology and imagery in advertising that is accessible to minors; it does not ban the advertising of such brands in venues accessible to minors as long as that advertising does not include any fruit terminology or imagery. I see nothing in the settlement which indicates that if a brand contains fruit flavoring, it cannot be advertised in youth-accessible venues even if no fruit terminology is used in that advertising.
Based on my analysis, I do not see any violation of the 2006 settlement.
I agree with R.J. Reynolds that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is inaccurate in its assessment and wrong in its accusation. I also agree that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has a tendency to go to great deceptive lengths to promote the FDA tobacco legislation, and that it is consistently failing to provide a full and fair disclosure of the facts so that people can draw their own objective conclusions.