ANNAPOLIS – Sending a message to tobacco company R.J. Reynolds that it is not cool to target young blacks in cigarette marketing, Maryland is one of three states entering into a $1.46 million settlement that will restrict “KOOL Mixx” cigarette promotions.
The tobacco company also will, for the first time, be subject to stricter marketing standards than those imposed in a nationwide settlement with states in 1998, which specifically prohibited tobacco companies from youth-directed advertising.
“This shows that the MSA (Master Settlement Agreement) really does have teeth when it comes to protecting kids from Big Tobacco,” said Marlene Trestman, special assistant to Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who filed the lawsuit on Maryland’s behalf.
New York and Illinois also agreed to the settlement with R.J. Reynolds, which acquired KOOL when it merged with Brown & Williamson in July.
The settlement is significant from a health perspective because tobacco use is the nation’s No. 1 cause of preventable death and studies show that if youth can be dissuaded from lighting up before they turn 18, they are more likely not to start smoking at all, said Trestman.
“We are pleased that we were able to resolve this issue in a manner that not only enables us to compete effectively for the business of adult smokers, but makes additional funding available to youth smoking prevention programs,” said Charles A. Blixt, executive vice president and general counsel of R.J. Reynolds in a prepared statement.
The company admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement.
Some of the youth-focused methods to promote KOOL Mixx were hip-hop disc jockey “mixing” competitions held in Maryland and other states, which offered cash prizes and KOOL Mixx paraphernalia.
The terms of the settlement eliminate collector’s edition cigarette packs depicting club scenes of DJs and break-dancers. The agreement also terminates the distribution of CD-ROMS featuring hip-hop music and interactive games and a “House of Menthol” Web site.
In addition, $1.46 million will go to four organizations to fund youth smoking prevention activities.
“We just couldn’t sit back and let tobacco companies use hip-hop to sell tobacco products to kids when we know kids love hip-hop,” said Trestman.
Baltimore City Circuit Court must still approve the agreement, said Trestman.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bobby Wright Community Center in Chicago, the American Lung Association of Illinois and the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, a nonprofit organization based in Lake Mary, Fla., which first questioned the KOOL Mixx marketing, will share the settlement funds.
“The settlement is significant… It says we can fight back and win,” said the executive director of the tobacco prevention network, Sherri Watson Hyde, in a prepared statement.