WASHINGTON -- Lorillard Tobacco Company has threatened legal action against the American Legacy Foundation, sponsor of the national youth anti-smoking campaign, alleging that its "truth" ads violate the terms of Big Tobacco's Master Settlement Agreement with states. The agreement prohibits the ads from personally attacking or vilifying tobacco companies.
"It has become abundantly clear that ALF's 'truth' campaign is not about conveying the truth about tobacco products to the American public, so much as vilifying and personally attacking tobacco companies and their employees," Lorillard wrote in a letter to Legacy Friday. "Rather than focus on the products themselves, in large part the message of the 'truth' campaign is that the participating manufacturers and their executives are dishonest, deceitful, callous, malicious, or otherwise unscrupulous."
Cheryl Healton, Legacy's president and CEO, denied the allegations at a press conference Tuesday, countering that the "truth" campaign helps educate teens about the contents of cigarettes and about tobacco industry marketing efforts. "I will not deny that truth ads are edgy and hard-hitting," Healton said. "They use irreverent humor that adults may sometimes not understand. We do not apologize for this. This is education, not vilification -- and it saves lives."
Healton argues that Lorillard is trying to stop the "truth" campaign because it has been effective in stopping teens from smoking. "Would Lorillard be trying to stop the 'truth' campaign if it weren't helping to reduce youth smoking and tobacco industry revenues," Healton said.
Lorillard has given Legacy 30 days notice to change its "truth" campaign or face a possible enforcement action under the MSA. In order to stop Legacy's campaign, Lorillard would have to file legal action in each of the 46 states that signed the agreement.
Christine Gregoire, attorney general for Washington state and chair of Legacy's board said there was nothing in the "truth" campaign that violates the MSA, and that Legacy had no intention of changing its ads. "To alter the campaign means to turn our back on success," Gregoire said. "We are just not going to do that."
Legacy spent about $100 million on its "truth" campaign last year. The ads are created by Arnold Worldwide, Boston and Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami.