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Tobacco companies sue to stop antismoking ads

©Associated Press

April 3, 2003

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Two tobacco companies are suing California, saying the state's antismoking TV ads unfairly vilify their industry.

The counterattack follows multibillion-dollar jury awards against beleaguered cigarettemakers, which are trying to cope with a nationwide sales decline.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court late Tuesday by R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard, alleges California's ads unfairly influence potential jurors who may be asked to rule on tobacco-related lawsuits.

One ad shows children catching cigarettes that are raining down on them, with a narrator saying: "We have to sell cigarettes to your children. That's why we sell cigarettes near your schools."

The ads make Californians prejudiced against tobacco companies before they even step into a courtroom, said Ellen Matthews, a spokeswoman for R.J. Reynolds, the nation's second-largest cigarette manufacturer.

"It's been an ad campaign for more than 10 years and it's infiltrated every segment of the media in California," she said.

In October, a Los Angeles jury ruled that Philip Morris USA should pay $28-billion to a 45-year smoker with lung cancer. A judge later slashed the award to $28-million.

Gov. Gray Davis said Wednesday that the state wouldn't back down from its media campaign.

"If big tobacco wants to fight, I say bring it on," Davis said. "They spend infinitely more than we do to get their message out. I don't think anyone should feel too sorry for them."

Antismoking organizations also criticized the lawsuit.

"Suing to stop the most successful tobacco prevention program in the nation is further proof that they're not serious in saying they don't want kids to smoke," said Bill Corr of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The suit seeks an injunction against antismoking ads in California, claiming they violate the companies' First Amendment rights.

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