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R.J. Reynolds Settles Over Sweet Smokes

R.J. Reynolds has agreed to a domestic ban on its current line of flavored cigarettes such as "Twista Lime" and "Mocha Taboo," which critics say are marketed to youths.

The tobacco giant settled a broad investigation of its domestic sales and marketing without paying any penalty and gaining two concessions. The company agreed to stop identifying cigarettes with candy, fruit, desserts, or alcoholic beverage names, imagery or ads, according to a statement from New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. The company will also stop using scented promotional material, including scratch-and-sniff samples.

Last year, a national survey by Buffalo's Roswell Park Cancer Institute found that 20 percent of smokers aged 17 to 19 said they used flavored cigarettes in the past 30 days while just 6 percent of smokers over the age of 25 did, said Dr. Gary Giovino, a senior researcher at the institute.

The deal struck with 40 states and the Marianas Islands allows the company's new experimental "smoking lounge," to continue to sell its own premium flavored cigarettes. But New York and Illinois officials said the lounge will have to repackage them so they aren't named or promoted with images of fruit or sweet foods and drink. The deal also allows R.J. Reynolds to offer new lines of flavored cigarettes in the future under revised packaging, the company and state officials said Wednesday.

The agreement, effective Wednesday, allows the continued sale of the existing flavored cigarette lines only in Chicago's Marshall McGearty's, billed as the nation's first cigarette lounge. The R.J. Reynolds-owned business opened in December and offers premium and handcrafted cigarettes to adults. It is exempt from local smoking laws. The states contend the one exception doesn't extend to similar businesses or any additional McGearty's lounges, but R.J. Reynolds spokesman Frederick McConnell disagrees.

"We can still sell flavored cigarettes in the future," he said, adding that expanding McGearty's as a chain will depend on the experience in Chicago.

State officials say any future sales won't be marketed using sweet imagery.

"Selling candy, fruit and sweetened, alcohol-flavored cigarettes is downright irresponsible, given the appeal of these products to youth," said Spitzer, who took the lead in the case along with officials from Illinois. "This result reflects a recognition that the attorneys general, together with the public health community, will not tolerate Reynolds' shameful ploys to introduce our children to smoking and to lure them into a lifetime of addiction to its deadly products."

R.J. Reynolds, which markets Kool, Salem and Camel brands, said it welcomed the settlement and will voluntarily extend it to brands not covered in the agreement. Flavored cigarettes on the shelves Wednesday can be sold, but they can't be restocked.

"This agreement codifies R.J. Reynolds' practice for some time of not using language describing fruit or candy flavors in magazine and newspaper advertising, or point-of-sale communications in non-age-restricted venues," said CEO and President Lynn J. Beasley.

"We recognize that the past use of certain names on a limited number of our brand styles resulted in unintended perceptions and concerns," Beasley said. "Today's agreement is the appropriate step in resolving these perceptions and this issue."

Officials involved in the case were from: Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the commonwealth of the Northern Marianas.

The states argued that the flavored cigarettes violated a nationwide settlement with the largest tobacco companies in 1998 that prohibited the marketing of products to youths.

"Candy flavored cigarettes can now join Joe Camel on the ash heap of defunct tobacco marketing schemes," said Donald Distasio of the American Cancer Society of New York and New Jersey. "This is a tremendous victory."

Several states have proposed laws banning flavored cigarettes over the last two years.

"We believe that this agreement and our new policy is responsible, appropriate and resolves the issues that have been of concern," Beasley said. The company discontinued its Camel Exotic Blend styles in May, after they were first sold in 1999 as "super-premium priced" products.

Reynolds America, which sells tobacco products outside the United States, isn't bound by the agreement, a company spokesman said.