States See Red Over Cartoon Cigarette Ads

R.J. Reynolds Company brands of cigarettes, 10-24-06, on black background with company logo
AP / CBS
An illustrated advertising section in Rolling Stone magazine violates the tobacco industry's nine-year-old promise not to use cartoons to sell cigarettes, prosecutors in several states said Tuesday.

Attorney general's offices in at least eight states planned to file lawsuits against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. starting Tuesday about the advertising for Camel cigarettes in the November edition of Rolling Stone, officials said.

The section combines pages of Camel cigarette ads with pages of magazine-produced illustrations on the theme of independent rock music.

"Their latest nine-page advertising spread in Rolling Stone, filled with cartoons, flies in the face of their pledge to halt all tobacco marketing to children," Pennsylvania's Attorney General Tom Corbett said in a statement released Tuesday.

Pennsylvania, New York and Washington state are filing lawsuits Tuesday, Corbett's office said. Attorneys general in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Ohio and Maryland also said they were suing.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown called the publication a "rather clever piece of advertising."

"They agreed not to do these kinds of things ever since Joe Camel," Brown said. "We have to call them to task."

The landmark 1998 settlement between 46 states and the tobacco industry reimburses states for smoking-related health care costs. In an effort to prevent the industry from pitching to minors, the agreement includes a provision against using cartoons in advertisements.

The cigarette ads in Rolling Stone tout "free range rock" and support for independent record labels while using photographic images of people in 1950s dress, farm animals, an old-fashioned tractor and furnishings like a phonograph against a farm backdrop. Those pages fold out to reveal a four-page illustrated spread of an "Indie Rock Universe" with animals, imaginary figures and other drawings.

David Howard, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds in Winston-Salem, N.C., insisted the Camel ads contained no cartoons. While the company was surprised and concerned by Rolling Stone's illustrations, R.J. Reynolds bore no responsibility for it, he said.

"Had we been aware of the graphics prepared by Rolling Stone, we would not have advertised adjacent to the gatefold," Howard said.

Corbett's office said the states are seeking fines of $100 per magazine distributed within their borders, as well as $100 per hit on the related R.J. Reynolds Web site, www.thefarmrocks.com.

Ray Chelstowski, publisher of Rolling Stone, said R.J. Reynolds had no idea that the magazine's pages would be illustrations, as opposed to text, and said the Camel ads tout the music Web site, not cigarettes.

"Particularly the fact that what Camel is promoting here is a Web site makes at least some of the accusations seem far-fetched," Chelstowski said Tuesday.

Other states are reviewing the matter and could join the effort, said Nils Frederiksen a spokesman for Corbett. If every state involved in the 1998 settlement files suit, the fines could exceed $100 million, he said.

The lawsuits also ask for the removal of the images from all Web sites and promotions and a payment by R.J. Reynolds equal to the cost of the Rolling Stone advertisement to be used for anti-smoking ads.