Washington State - R.J. Reynolds found guilty of violating ban on cartoons..

July 14, 2009 - Attorneys general from 8 states have filed a motion against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (RJR) alleging that RJR is illegally marketing cigarettes to youth through a current advertising campaign violating the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). That agreement, which the tobacco industry signed to end the national tobacco litigation, expressly prohibits the use of cartoons to advertise or promote cigarettes.

At least eight states – Maine, Ohio, California, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Washington – sued the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based company after the fold-out advertisement appeared in one of (November 15, 2007) Rolling Stone’s special 40th anniversary issues.

On Monday, July 13th the Washington state Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s finding that content Reynolds produced for the 2007 Rolling Stone advertisement did not include cartoons. Though the photographic images weren’t Disney-style illustrations, the appeals court said they were cartoonishly arranged in a bucolic collage. The theme of the “Camel Farm” ad campaign was that Reynolds was helping to support – grow – independent music.

The Maine and Ohio judges sided with the company and California came back with a split decision. In May, a Pennsylvania judge became the first to hold Reynolds liable, ordering the company to pay $302,000 or run a full-page anti-smoking ad in Rolling Stone. Reynolds vowed to appeal.

Washington’s court said that Reynolds couldn’t be held liable for content produced by Rolling Stone without the company’s knowledge, but that the company’s own content fell within the settlement’s cartoon prohibition, aimed at restricting the tobacco industry’s ability to market to young people.

The decision overturned a ruling by King County Superior Court Judge William Downing, who determined that the ad did not include traditional cartoons and that its overall effect was thought-provoking rather than humorous.

“The trial court looked at the cartoon provision and assumed that if an advertisement wasn’t targeting children, it wasn’t a cartoon,” Assistant Attorney General Rene David Tomisser said Monday. “That’s not what the cartoon provision was intended to be.”

The appeals court ordered the lower court to calculate damages. Tomisser said he does not know what the state will request; previously, the state sought $100 for each of the 35,000 copies of the magazine sold in Washington. Tomisser said he would seek additional damages for every time the ad appeared on Web sites or on billboards or signs at concerts in the state.

It wasn’t known if Reynolds planned to appeal.

Reference: Camel ads included cartoons, court says Damages at stake for RJ Reynolds, Gene Johnson, Associated Press, 7/14/2009.

Related news brief: Pennsylvania - Judge rules Camel Ads Violated Ban On Cartoons..