AMERICAN LEGACY FOUNDATION WINS COURT VICTORY

Judge Rules That 'Truth' Ads Don't Vilify Tobacco Giants

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The American Legacy Foundation today hailed a Delaware judge's decision as a victory in its legal fight over whether its Truth anti-tobacco ad campaign has "vilified" tobacco companies.

“We have known right along that [the Truth campaign] is true and it works and now we know it’s legal,” said Vermont Attorney General William H. Sorrell, who heads Legacy Foundation's board.

Delaware court
In a ruling yesterday in Delaware Chancery Court, the judge, Vice Chancellor Stephen Lamb, found that tobacco corporations had not been vilified by the Legacy Foundation's anti-smoking advertisements.

Lorillard Tobacco Co. said it would appeal the decision to the Delaware Supreme Court. “We are disappointed with the judge’s ruling,” said Ronald S. Milstein, senior vice president for legal and external affairs.

The legality of the Truth campaign ads had been challenged by Lorillard in the Chancery Court fight that echoed some of the discussions leading to the Foundation's 1998 formation in a settlement of 46 state suits accusing tobacco makers of underplaying risks and marketing tobacco illegally.

Definition of 'vilify'
Tobacco companies agreed to fund the Foundation’s anti-smoking ad campaign, but having seen a Florida

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campaign comparing them to Hitler, insisted one caveat in the Master Settlement Agreement: The foundation's ads couldn't be used to "vilify” tobacco companies or launch personal attacks. The agreement didn’t clearly define “vilification” and after Lorillard complained that some elements of Legacy’s Truth campaign including a radio ad suggesting ingredients in dog urine were used in its products was “vilification” and sought to get states to switch the funds to another group, Legacy went to court to get a declaration its ad were, in fact, legal.

That in turn prompted Lorillard to undertake a broader challenge to the Foundation’s Truth advertising. Agencies Arnold Worldwide of Boston, and Crispin Porter & Bogusky of Miami, handle the Truth ad campaign.

'Liars and greedy executives'
In his ruling yesterday, Vice Chancellor Lamb, said he examined 20 of the Foundation's TV and radio ads and rejected the vilification charges in all. "None of the ads subject the [tobacco companies'] employees to the type of contemptuous language contained in other case law discussing vilification,” the judge said. "There are not scurrilous and vitriolic attacks. There is no cruel slander. There is no social ostracism. There is no public ridicule, traduction or calumny. Although the employees may be described, either explicitly or implicitly, as liars, greedy executives, or authors of embarrassing documents, the ads do not vilify them."

The judge did say the Foundation’s related truth.com Web site went too far when it offered online users automated fill-in-the-blanks e-mail forms facilitating the transmission of obscenity-laced messages to individual Lorillard executives. However, the judge also noted that by spending less than $1,000, the company was able to block the e-mails. The e-mail function was subsequently removed from truth.com.

Mr. Sorrell said the decision does make clear that the Foundation must abide by the rules of the Master Settlement Agreement.

Massive payment stop
Tobacco makers are no longer providing the massive payments that originally funded the Foundation's operations, but the Justice Department, in suggesting remedies for its own case against tobacco makers, has recently suggested new payments to Foundation.

“This decision underscores the reasonableness of what the Department of Justice has requested,” Mr. Sorrell said.

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