Making good on its month-old threat, Lorillard Tobacco Co. today sued the American Legacy Foundation for "vilifying" tobacco companies in its anti-smoking ads and is seeking court "guidelines" for future advertising.
In today's suit, filed in Superior Court in Greensboro, N.C., Lorillard claimed "many" of the foundation's ads "have included personal attacks on companies and individuals" and that Legacy also has been responsible for sending or encouraging multiple harassing e-mails, which were described as "vitriolic, hateful and vulgar personal attacks" that also violate a North Carolina cyber-stalking law.
Lorillard has alleged the foundation's ads violate the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between tobacco makers and 46 state attorneys general. The agreement prohibits personal attacks and "vilification" of tobacco companies or their executives in anti-smoking advertising campaigns. Tobacco makers sought the restriction after Florida, which had signed an earlier agreement with big tobacco, used some of its money to begin running anti-smoking ads, one of which compared tobacco executives to Adolph Hitler.
The settlement also required tobacco makers to pay billions of dollars to the states and to limit advertising and marketing; it also created the foundation and requires the tobacco companies to fund its campaigns.
Lorillard executives said they aren't seeking punitive damages and instead want the court to rule that the ads violate the agreement, and that state attorneys general will use the decision as a guide to developing future ads.
In a statement today, foundation President-CEO Cheryl Healton called Lorillard's suit "meritless" and accused the tobacco maker of trying to crush its advertising campaign because of its effectiveness. The ads "have not vilified or personally attacked any person or any tobacco company," she said. "We will vigorously defend this lawsuit and pursue our efforts to assure that the 'Truth' campaign remains hard hitting and effective."
The $116 million-a-year campaign is produced by the foundation and its agencies, Havas Advertising's Arnold Worldwide Partners, Boston, and MDC Communications Corp.'s Crispin Porter & Bogufsky, Miami.
The suit mentioned several ads but pointed specifically to a radio ad that ran last year in which a Lorillard employee is called and asked if he wants to buy dog urine as a source of urea for cigarettes.
Lorillard had notified the foundation a month ago of its intent to sue. Last week the foundation filed its own suit in Delaware seeking a declaratory judgement that Lorillard couldn't sue it because the foundation never signed the agreement or, failing that, that its ads were legal.
Ira Teinowitz, AdAge.com. February 19, 2002
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