Saturday, August 27, 2005

Tennessee Attorney General Accuses Country Music Star of Master Setttlement Agreement Violation for Pulling Skoal Out of Pocket on Stage

Tennessee Attorney General Paul G. Summers asked country music star Gretchen Wilson to stop removing a can of Skoal from her pocket during performances of her song "Skoal Ring," whose title refers to the wear mark that the smokeless tobacco cans leave in a blue jeans pocket.

Summers made the request in order to stop the country music artist from promoting smokeless tobacco to youths present at her concerts. However, he based the request at least in part on his contention that Wilson's removal of the Skoal can during her concerts may violate the terms of the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) signed by the state of Tennessee and by the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company, manufacturer of Skoal.

Summers wrote: "The company that manufactures Skoal, the United States Smokeless Tobacco Company, has signed the Smokeless Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which prohibits targeting youth for tobacco product sales. Attorney General Summers is also contacting the manufacturer about the use of its products at Wilson’s concerts."

The media interpreted Summers' statement as suggesting that Wilson was violating the MSA, and reported the story as such. According to the Associated Press article on the topic, "A warning letter said the routine might violate the 1998 tobacco settlement, which forbids tobacco ads targeting young people."

The Rest of the Story

While the Attorney General of Tennessee can certainly request that Wilson stop using the Skoal can in her performance so as not to promote the use of smokeless tobacco to young people, it seems inappropriate for him to invoke the Master Settlement Agreement and threaten to use the force of law to try to convince Wilson to alter her act.

Because the MSA is a contract between the tobacco companies and the states, it clearly does not apply to individual country music artists and what they choose to do during their performances. It cannot apply to such individuals, because they are not party to the contract.

The Tennessee Attorney General's suggestion that Wilson's act violates the MSA is preposterous, and his contention is in direct conflict with the First Amendment to the Constitution, as well as other consitutional rights, including due process. There is no way that the state of Tennessee can impose requirements on the musical performance of an artist who is not party to the MSA contract. The MSA prohibits targeting of youths by the tobacco companies which signed the Agreement, not by country music performers.

The only exception to this would have been if Wilson was being paid by the smokeless tobacco company for using the Skoal in her performance, in which case it could have been interpreted as the tobacco company, rather than Wilson, which was promoting the product. But that is not the case, as Wilson stated that she has no relationship with the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company.

In the end, Wilson voluntarily agreed to discontinue the use of the Skoal can in her act. However, the fact that Summers apparently saw fit to inappropriately invoke the MSA in trying to influence Wilson's actions is unfortunate.

It's great that Attorney General Summers is concerned about the promotion of smokeless tobacco to youths, but that concern certainly doesn't justify the threatened unjustified intrusion into an individual's First Amendment rights.

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