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US: Reynolds Ads Oppose Move to Regulate Tobacco


by STEPHANIE SAULThe New York Times
April 1st, 2008

What do a vaudeville-style plate spinner and the Food and Drug Administration have in common?

Both are trying to keep too many plates in the air, according to a new advertising campaign by the tobacco giant Reynolds American.

As legislation moves through Congress that would empower the F.D.A. to regulate the tobacco industry, Reynolds, whose brands include Camel cigarettes, is attacking what it views as the bill’s vulnerability: a weak, overextended F.D.A.

The company has begun an advertising campaign that includes a television commercial using a comic plate-spinning routine to illustrate its point — that the F.D.A. is overwhelmed and already unable to properly oversee its core missions of ensuring food and drug safety. So why, the ads ask, should Congress add more to its plate?

“Their own scientific experts warn that the F.D.A. can’t do their job properly and warn that lives could be at risk,” the ads say.

The ads, in print as well as on television, are running in Washington as well as in selected regional markets that are the homes of crucial members of Congress. The campaign is a response to the gathering momentum of the legislation, whose proponents have been pushing for regulation for more than a decade. Backers say that adoption is a real possibility, even during a presidential election year.

The bill, with bipartisan support, has more than 50 Senate sponsors and 215 sponsors in the House. A Senate committee has already approved the bill and the House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to take it up on Wednesday.

“This is the most significant progress we have made in a decade toward enacting this bill and we are confident it will pass this year,” said William V. Corr, the executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an anti-smoking advocacy group.

In a statement, Mr. Corr said it was no surprise that Reynolds was behind the ads because the company has been “the worst offender when it comes to marketing tobacco products to children.”

Last year, six states sued the company’s R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company subsidiary, contending that a promotion in Rolling Stone magazine violated a 1998 agreement not to use cartoons in advertising.

The suit focused on ads for Camel on the cover of a special fold-out section in the magazine. The section called Indie Rock Universe contained graphics intended to look like doodling in a student notebook. Reynolds said the section was produced by Rolling Stone and the ads should not have been placed near the drawings.

Reynolds introduced a new Web site, fdaconcerns.com, and began the television ads last week in nearly a dozen regional media markets.

A spokesman for Reynolds, Tommy Payne, said the company hoped that some members would see the ad and ask, “Is this the best time to pass this legislation, given the problems we have with the core mission of the F.D.A.?” Mr. Payne would not say how much the company is spending on the ad campaign. “It’s enough to convey the message,” he said.

One target of the TV campaign is G. K. Butterfield, a House Democrat from Reynolds’s home state, North Carolina, who says he supports tobacco regulation. Mr. Butterfield is also a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

A spokesman for Mr. Butterfield, Ken Willis, said the ads began running last week in the congressman’s district, a heavy tobacco-growing region of northeastern North Carolina, where the spots have been featured during televised N.C.A.A. basketball tournament games.

The commercials ask that viewers notify their representatives about concern over the proposed regulation. But Mr. Willis said that Mr. Butterfield’s office has received only two calls.

“It obviously doesn’t scare the farmers in the way it might have in years past,” Mr. Willis said, adding that farmers still have markets for their tobacco, in some cases abroad.

While the nation’s biggest tobacco company, Philip Morris, supports the legislation, Reynolds is opposed. A spokesman for Lorillard Tobacco said the company had not yet taken a position in advance of Wednesday’s committee meeting.

Analysts contend that the bill could benefit Philip Morris over its smaller competitors. By imposing tighter restrictions on advertising, the new regulations could make it harder for Reynolds to market Camel — No. 3 in the United States market — against the industry’s top-seller, Marlboro, which is made by Philip Morris. The nation’s No. 2 cigarette brand is Newport, marketed by Lorillard.

Some members of Congress have expressed concerns similar to those raised by Reynolds, saying that the F.D.A. is already overwhelmed. But the bill tries to address that concern by establishing a new center for tobacco regulation within the F.D.A. It would be financed by tobacco industry fees projected at more than $5 billion over the next 10 years.

The bill would also ban candy-flavored cigarettes and give the F.D.A. authority to regulate the content of tobacco products.





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