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AMERICAN MORNING

Tobacco Companies Sue California Over TV Ads

Aired June 10, 2003 - 07:51   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Two tobacco companies are suing the state of California, claiming that some anti-smoking ads are going too far. The ads aim to keep young people from lighting up. But R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard say that the ads portray them as callous killers and could prejudice some prospective jurors in legal cases.
Let's take a look at one of the ads.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, this is a breeding ground for the new smoker. Now, we've hired good-looking people to provide these young adults with free cigarettes, free key chains, choskies (ph), what have you, and they don't even consider themselves to be actual smokers. They call it social smoking. Well, you know what? You can call it anything you want. But the truth is in a few years this group, a pack a day, you watch. Our brand, too. Brilliant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: Joining us now to talk about the ads and the lawsuit from Sacramento, Daniel Zingale, cabinet secretary to Governor Gray Davis, and from San Francisco, Joe Escher, attorney for R.J. Reynolds.

Gentlemen, good morning. Thanks for joining us.

JOE ESCHER, ATTORNEY FOR R.J. REYNOLDS: Good morning.

DANIEL ZINGALE, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR'S CABINET SECRETARY: Good morning.

KAGAN: Joe, let's start with you. What's your gripe with the ads?

ESCHER: Well, the tobacco companies shouldn't be forced to pay for them, the principal's fundamental that you shouldn't be forced to pay for speech, especially political speech that you disagree with.

KAGAN: Let me just jump in a second, Joe. Explain that, because I don't think people understand where this money comes from.

ESCHER: The money comes from the tobacco companies directly. The money is paid by the tobacco companies under Proposition 99, and then the money is turned around to pay for ads that basically vilify the tobacco companies. And I don't think there's anything like it anywhere else in the country; that this is really a fundamental First Amendment violation. KAGAN: Doesn't it sound a little bit kind of like whining, like, the tobacco companies are -- like, you don't like people saying bad things about you, Joe?

ESCHER: Well, we don't like people saying bad things against us; that's true. But we really don't like having to pay for it. And...

KAGAN: But that's the law. I mean, is that the basis for the lawsuit? You at least don't want to pay for them, or you don't like what's being said?

ESCHER: I think that, you know, the fundamental notion in the lawsuit is that we don't want to pay for them. Of course, we don't like what's being said either. But the notion is that under the First Amendment you shouldn't be forced to pay for speech that you disagree with, especially political speech.

KAGAN: Dan, it is kind of an interesting twist here. Not only do they have to sit and listen to things that they don't like being said, but the money comes out of their own pockets.

ZINGALE: Well, many of us don't like listening to the ads that the tobacco companies spend $1.2 billion on here in California alone. The total budget for these ads to help prevent smoking, particularly of young people, will be about $16 million this year, a fraction of what is being spent to persuade people to smoke. There will be 75 ads promoting tobacco use for every 1 of the ads that we just showed.

KAGAN: I want to go ahead and show our audience one more of these ads before we continue the conversation, so here's another one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The idea of a cigarette company doing a spot on teen prevention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Classic reverse psychology.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, you tell the average teenager not to smoke and let's face it, what's he going to do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course, they're going to want to smoke.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course. We like the word, "no, because when we say no, your average teenager thinks, ah, yes, I believe I will. It's rebellious. It's cool. It's hip. And let's face it, rebellion looks pretty good with a cigarette hanging out of your mouth, tough guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: So, Joe, are you offended by the idea that people are discussing the idea that tobacco companies actually go after a young market?

ESCHER: Absolutely I am. And in particular that ad, they don't have the slightest bit of proof that anti-smoking advertisements by Philip Morris or R.J. Reynolds or anyone else are actually designed to get kids to smoke. It's defamatory, but, I mean, the terrible thing is they're making us pay for that ad, and it's wrong. It doesn't happen in any other context in the whole society.

KAGAN: Don't you think the terrible thing, though, is the idea that tobacco companies are actually trying to get young people to smoke? Isn't that a much worse situation than some tobacco companies that might be offended?

ESCHER: Well, first of all, you know, the tobacco companies don't agree that that's what they're trying to do. But the point in the lawsuit is that it's a violation of the First Amendment to make us pay for those ads. And it's not a simple moral equation of saying, well, one person has to waive their First Amendment rights because there's a greater good involved. That's what the First Amendment is there for, is to keep people from being -- having compelled speech against their own interests.

KAGAN: Dan, real quick, one thing I just have to ask you. I hear that actually some young people might consider the ads to be too cute, that they're pandering, like, you know, what do you think, we're dumb that you have to get the idea across to us that smoking is bad for us, that they're kind of ineffective.

ZINGALE: Well, in fact, the ads are working. They're so effective. That's why the tobacco industry is suing the people of California, because here in California our population, our governor, Gray Davis, have a commitment to stopping tobacco use, and it's working. Ever since the voters passed an initiative in the 1980sS to fund anti-tobacco education in this manner, smoking in California has dropped. We're among lowest in the nation. As a result, we have the lowest lung cancer rate in the nation. We want to keep that going.

But the tobacco industry is fighting very hard, suing the state, inundating the state with pro-tobacco ads. So, we're going to keep these ads on the air. There is no question about our commitment to do that.

KAGAN: We will be tracking it. Daniel Zingale and Joe Escher, gentlemen, thanks for joining us. I know it's early in California. I appreciate it.

ESCHER: It sure is. Thanks a lot.

ZINGALE: Thanks.

KAGAN: Thank you.

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