NEW YORK – Brown & Williamson, the maker of Kool cigarettes, was sued on Thursday by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (search) for an advertising campaign that he said targets children.
Spitzer said Brown & Williamson's "Kool MIXX 2004 (search)" promotion explicitly targets youth with its focus on hip-hop music and culture. He said the campaign violates the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (search) between U.S. states and the tobacco industry that settled state lawsuits over the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses.
The attorney general is seeking at least $15 million in penalties from Brown & Williamson, a unit of British American Tobacco Plc (BTI), and an injunction to stop the company's campaign and promotions in New York.
He also wants Brown & Williamson to place anti-smoking ads in such magazines as Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Spin and Vibe, which have large numbers of younger readers.
"Brown & Williamson's campaign is a shameless attempt to market Kool cigarettes to children and teenagers, particularly African-American youth," Spitzer said in a statement. "Hip-hop music is youth-driven. By targeting this music genre and culture, through CDs, advertising and other promotions, Brown & Williamson clearly violates the (MSA) for their own profit."
Brown & Williamson was not immediately available for comment. Companies that signed the MSA are expected to pay about $200 billion over 25 years.
Spitzer said he and the attorneys general of Maine and Maryland, acting on behalf of 35 other states and jurisdictions, asked Brown & Williamson to end the Kool MIXX campaign.
He said the company agreed to stop distributing special packs and merchandise, but is proceeding with a national campaign to find top disc jockeys and "MCs." Brown & Williamson has said the competition celebrates "the energy and creativity of the urban Hip-Hop culture."
A hip-hop MC performs with improvised rhyme and the spoken word, typically over a thumping beat.
Spitzer said he filed the lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.