Crowe's Cigarette Causes a Stir

A cigarette smoked by actor Russell Crowe on Australian television has sparked a legal battle.

The Nine Network on Wednesday launched a challenge in Sydney's Federal Court against a ruling by Australia's broadcasting watchdog that it had breached a law banning the advertising of cigarettes.

The Australian Broadcasting Authority said an interview with Crowe aired on the station's 60 Minutes program in October 2000, that showed the Oscar-winning actor brandishing a packet of Marlboros as he lit up, breached the Tobacco Advertisement Prohibition Act.

Part of the interview was replayed the following week after viewers criticized Crowe — who was nominated for an Oscar when he portrayed a tobacco industry whistleblower in the film The Insider — for his smoking habit.

The authority said that while the original footage was an "incidental accompaniment" allowed under the act, the repeat broadcast "recklessly" constituted a tobacco advertisement. It decided, however, not to fine the media organization.

Nine Network lawyer John Griffiths told Federal Court judge Arthur Emmett on Wednesday that the finding was "perverse and irrational" and the authority should be ordered to reconsider its ruling.

Nine Network had discouraged rather than encouraged smoking when it referred in the interview to the movie star's habit as "weakness to the demon weed," Griffiths said.

Justice Emmett was scheduled to make a ruling Thursday.