Spitzer Condemns Tobacco Promotion Encouraging Binge Drinking
Attorney General Spitzer today called upon R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to immediately cancel a cigarette promotion that encourages binge drinking by young adults. The demand was made in a letter to R.J. Reynolds CEO Susan Ivey, which Spitzer sent jointly with Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. and California Attorney General Bill Lockyer.
"This promotion is a complete abomination," said Attorney General Spitzer. "Virtually every parent in America knows what it is like to anxiously wait for a child to come home from a night out with friends, worrying that someone will be drinking and driving. Now R.J. Reynolds - apparently not satisfied just selling its own deadly products - is encouraging individuals to 'celebrate' their birthdays by abusing alcohol. It is just shameful."
The advertising campaign involves Camel brand cigarettes, which is the second-most popular cigarette with teens and young adults. R.J. Reynolds mails an envelope to individuals on their birthday which reads: "Camel - It's your Birthday. Drinks on us." Inside the envelope are six different drink coasters, each with a recipe for mixed drinks with high alcohol content and tag lines that promote excessive and irresponsible drinking such as, "LAYER IT ON. GO ‘TIL DAYBREAK," "MIX THREE SHOTS TOGETHER OVER ICE, THEN MAKE SURE YOU'RE SITTIN',"and "POUR OVER ICE, THEN LET IT BURN." R.J. Reynolds says that the mailings are sent to individuals over 21 years old on their birthdays.
"R.J. Reynolds has set a new low even for a tobacco company with its latest marketing campaign. By linking smoking and alcohol, this campaign blatantly encourages young people to start abusing alcohol as well as to smoke," said Matthew Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. "We are appalled that Reynolds is trying to increase its cigarette sales by promoting alcohol abuse by young adults. If anyone needed further evidence that R.J.Reynolds has not changed since the Master Settlement Agreement, this latest marketing campaign should provide absolute proof."
"Binge drinking is a major public health issue nationwide, especially on college campuses, which makes this campaign even more appalling," said J. Edward Hill, President of the American Medical Association. "Research shows the adverse health impacts of smoking and alcohol are increased when these two addictive products are used together."
Attorneys General Spitzer, Lockyer and Curran initially wrote to Reynolds in November, demanding that the company discontinue the program because of the grave public health concerns raised by this promotion of excessive drinking, particularly among young adults. The Attorneys General's letter also referred to significant scientific research showing that the combined use of cigarettes and alcohol presents health risks over and above the risks posed by smoking alone.
The drink coasters specifically mention well-known brands of alcohols, including Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort, Finlandia Vodka, Kahlua, Bacardi Limon, and Baileys. The Attorneys General therefore also wrote to the four major distillers who produce those products, to determine whether they were participating in the advertising campaign.
All four distillers indicated that they previously were not aware of the promotion. Moreover, the distillers noted that the promotion would violate the alcohol industry's advertising code, which specifically prohibits marketing practices that encourage excessive drinking, promote the intoxicating effects of alcohol consumption, or urge individuals to drink as a rite of passage into adulthood. The distillers have all written to Reynolds, asserting that Reynolds has violated their trademark rights and demanding that Reynolds "cease and desist" the promotional campaign, or face potential litigation. Reynolds has refused those requests.
Spitzer, Lockyer and Curran therefore wrote to Reynolds again today, expressing their outrage and disappointment with Reynolds' refusal to discontinue this irresponsible promotion. The letter states that Reynolds "is promoting unsafe alcohol consumption" and asserts that Reynolds' "disregard for public health as demonstrated in this marketing campaign is unconscionable."
According to 2002 study commissioned by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Task Force on College Drinking, drinking by college students, ages 18 to 24, contributes to an estimated 1,400 student deaths, 500,000 injuries and 70,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape each year.