Thursday, November 18, 2010

IN MY VIEW: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Misrepresents Master Settlement Agreement in Order to Blast New R.J. Reynolds Camel Campaign

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is attacking R.J. Reynolds for its latest campaign to promote Camel cigarettes, a campaign which ties Camel to the names of popular U.S. cities and places the names of those cities on Camel packs. In particular, the Campaign is attacking R.J. Reynolds for using themes that may appeal to kids, in what Tobacco-Free Kids alleges is a violation of the Master Settlement Agreement.

The Campaign writes: "Joe Camel may have been put out to pasture, but his spirit lives on in R.J. Reynolds' latest marketing campaign that once again tries to make Camel cigarettes cool, fun and rebellious – and appealing to kids. The new campaign cynically uses the names and images of trendy U.S. destinations, including Seattle, Austin, San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood, in an attempt to make Camel cigarettes cool again. RJR has unveiled cigarette pack designs bearing the name of each city on its Camel web site and has told the media that it will sell limited edition cigarette packs with the city names in December and January." ...

"It is deeply disturbing that RJR is using the good name and hard-earned reputation of these great American cities to market deadly and addictive cigarettes, especially in a way that blatantly appeals to children. Certainly the citizens and leaders of these cities do not want to be associated with a product that kills more than 400,000 Americans every year. RJR showed truly shameless disregard for the death and suffering its products cause by calling this campaign a "celebration" of the locations involved. This campaign shows that RJR has not changed and continues to have blatant disregard for the health of America's children. We call on RJR to immediately end this marketing campaign and withdraw its plans to introduce the special edition cigarette packs."

"We also urge state attorneys general to investigate whether this promotion violates the 1998 state tobacco settlement's prohibition on tobacco marketing that targets children."

Images from the campaign can be seen here on the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids web site..

The Rest of the Story

I think that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' attack on R.J. Reynolds demonstrates a misunderstanding of the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). The MSA prohibits the tobacco companies from targeting youth in their marketing. However, the MSA does not prohibit the companies from using marketing themes or images which may appeal to children.

I was actually an expert witness in a lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds alleging that the company violated the terms of the Master Settlement Agreement by advertising preferentially in magazines with high youth readership. In that case, I provided evidence that Reynolds placed magazine advertisements in such a way that it achieved a higher degree of exposure among 12-17 year-old youths than among adults. It was this disproportionate exposure which convinced the judge that this pattern of advertising targeted kids and thus violated the Master Settlement Agreement. The case was decided in favor of the plaintiff (the state of California).

This situation, however, is very different. The Campaign is not arguing that the new Camel campaign is "targeted" at kids or that is somehow has disproportionate appeal to children. Instead, the Campaign is complaining merely because there might be some appeal of the campaign's themes and images to young people.

Unfortunately, that is not a violation of the Master Settlement Agreement. Had it been the intention of the Attorneys General to prohibit cigarette advertising that has any appeal to youth, then they would have done so by including such a prohibition in the MSA. They chose not to.

It is sour grapes for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to come along now and complain that there are some images in Reynolds' marketing that might appeal to youth. Had the Campaign wished to eliminate such marketing, they could have insisted that such marketing restrictions be included in the FDA tobacco legislation that they negotiated with Philip Morris.

The Campaign had its chance. It was at the negotiating table with Philip Morris. It could have simply insisted that the legislation include a ban on any advertising images or themes that might appeal to children. It could have threatened to walk away from the table if Philip Morris did not agree to such a provision. But the Campaign did not do this. Instead, it agreed to the weak legislation as it is.

The Campaign can complain all it wants now, but it is sour grapes. If they felt it was so important to eliminate this type of marketing, then they should have eliminated this type of marketing when they negotiated the federal tobacco legislation.

Moreover, had the Campaign wanted to prohibit the tobacco companies from using the names of U.S. cities as advertising appeals on their cigarette packs and advertisements, it could have insisted upon such a provision in the FDA tobacco legislation. The legislation does in fact address the warning labels and content of the cigarette packages and advertisements. The Campaign had its chance at the negotiating table and it failed. Now it is sour grapes to complain that the companies are placing city names on cigarette packs. Why didn't the Campaign get rid of such marketing techniques when it was sitting at the negotiating table and in a perfect position to do so?

Frankly, I don't see this campaign as appealing in any particular way to youth. Moreover, all cigarette advertising tries to make smoking cool, fun, and rebellious. If the Campaign wanted to eliminate those themes from cigarette advertising, then it should have done so.

You don't sit at the negotiating table, on the verge of substantially changing the way cigarettes are marketed, and then walk away with the crap legislation that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids settled for. And if you do, you have no business complaining when the tobacco companies do exactly what they are still permitted to do under the law.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free has had its chance. It failed. Now it's time to stand out of the way and let the grassroots advocates who really care about the public's health, and not just about political victory, take back over the movement and try to create some real change.

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