CRITICS' TAKE ON TOBACCO AD DOCUMENTS DISPUTED: REYNOLDS CLAIMS RELEASED PAPERS WERE SELECTIVELY CHOSEN, MISLEADING

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A review of the materials released as evidence of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. targeted to teens reveals a mix of market studies and research reports that may not be as definitive as reported.

Documents show that RJR actively was interested in investigating the smoking habits and preferences of those under legal smoking age, and some documents do show executives suggesting that underage youths be targeted.

However, some of the documents widely cited by critics and media reports are vendor proposals and research reports. One 1993 report presented as evidence RJR targeted children in its research is a study RJR's lawyers solicited to show the Federal Trade Commission that RJR was not targeting children. The study was intended to disprove FTC contentions that Camel's share of underage smokers grew.

CITED AS PROOF

The documents were released last month by U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D., Calif.). They had been gathered for a lawsuit filed in California against RJR. Both Rep. Waxman and President Clinton subsequently described them as proof RJR had targeted kids (AA, Jan. 19).

Rep. Waxman later released a few similar Philip Morris Cos. documents, at a hearing of the House Commerce Committee at which CEOs of the major tobacco marketers testified, and last week Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.) released additional documents of Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. and Lorillard. The latter included materials related to marketing to minorities.

Some of the studies in the RJR papers were conducted on multiple consumer products, covering standard age groups, with the tobacco company either buying the data related to tobacco or asking additional questions.

Critics cite RJR's interest in gathering information on smoking by teens and the marketer's concern that Philip Morris USA was getting a bigger share of the market, and believe the materials are clear evidence RJR wanted to target an underage audience in preparing its Joe Camel advertising. RJR claims it was tracking trends and trying to predict its situation as people reached legal smoking age.

Reynolds is now claiming the release of documents was selective, intended to purposely mislead the public and Congress about company actions. RJR said drafts containing controversial recommendations were released and not the final reports with the original recommendations quashed, though the attorneys in the court case had both sets of documents.

"This is a sandbag job, pure and simple," said an RJR spokeswoman. "This is less than 1% of what we [provided to lawyers]. . . . When you have five or six brand documents, all of which are consistent [in describing the target age] except one, and that is the one [used], the question is, `What are the plaintiffs' lawyers doing?' "

She was referring to an RJR document alluding to the targeting of the 13-to-24 age group for a new product, right after referring to "13 regions" and when every related document lists the range as "18-to-24."

Patrick Coughlin, a San Diego attorney who had been prepared to use the 81 documents in a case challenging the Joe Camel ad campaign -- which was settled after the campaign was pulled nationally -- said the documents were picked to bolster his case. But he said they were representative.

"It is pretty clear that targeting children was their intention," he said. "It's not a single document. You could come to no other conclusion than they targeted kids."

ONLY FINAL VERSIONS

RJR contends only final versions of documents represent company policy and earlier ones are merely individual opinions.

"In any organization, people sometimes think dumb things as well as smart things," said the RJR spokeswoman. "That doesn't mean procedures aren't in place to make sure the companies' policies are adhered to."

While today every state bars tobacco sales to those under 18, the smoking age was younger in some when the documents were compiled. A report by tobacco wholesalers said Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin had lower legal smoking ages, with Indiana's as young as 13 through 1982. Missouri had no restriction until `92, Louisiana until `91 and Colorado until `87.

Of the 81 documents released, totaling more than 2,000 pages, several documents cited could be seen as key to determining RJR's motives. Here are the charges and RJR's answers on several of them:

A Sept. 30, 1974, presentation to the then-Reynolds Industries board by VP-Marketing C.A. Tucker repeatedly referred to the need to go after "the 14-to-24 age group," where rival Philip Morris' Marlboro was doing well. It read:

"In 1960, this young adult market, the 14-to-24 age group, represented 21% of the population. . . . They will represent 27% of the population in 1975. They represent tomorrow's cigarette business. . . . Our two major brands, Winston and Salem, show comparative weakness against Marlboro and Kool against these younger smokers. . . . This suggests slow market share erosion for us in the years to come unless the situation is corrected."

"Our strategy becomes clear . . . direct advertising appeal to the younger smokers [and] being true to the brand's product attributes without alienating the brand's current franchise," Mr. Tucker told the board.

DEMOGRAPHIC SHIFT

The company contended Mr. Tucker was discussing how the company should face an upcoming population shift.

"The thrust of [Mr. Tucker's] presentation was about what the company would do to increase sales among adults as it faced a significant shift in demographics," she said, adding that the ad campaign unveiled at the presentation [in 1974] made clear the target audience was adults.

A 10-year planning study dated April 15, 1976, by RJR's research department predicted young people would continue to become smokers at rates equal to or above those of the past.

"The brands which these beginning smokers accept and use will become the dominant brands in future years," it said. "Evidence is now available to indicate that the 14-to-18-year-old group is an increasing segment of the smoking population. [RJR] must soon establish a successful new brand in this market if our position in the industry is to be maintained in the long term," the study said.

RJR said the recommendation was rejected by company officials and the final version of the study makes a different recommendation.

In 1980, two different documents referred to information on 14-to-17-year-olds gathered in an NFO Research marketing study and RJR's declining share of that market. RJR VP-Marketing Gerald Long wrote then-chairman Ed Horrigan expressing concern about the report and RJR's continued decline.

BLATANT EVIDENCE?

Critics see the document as blatant evidence RJR was targeting youths, and Rep. Waxman mentioned that particular document in a letter to House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R., Va.).

Reynolds said the document is being misinterpreted, and noted that it actually had released the document a year ago because of fears it would be misread.

The note was "a brief and shorthanded memo" whose author and recipient were trying to determine capacity needs for a new factory and looking at trends, the company said. The NFO study surveyed adults about various product categories.

An Oct. 15, 1987, memo described what was then called Project LF, and eventually became Camel Wides. "Project LF is a wider circumference non-menthol cigarette targeted at young adult male smoker (primarily 13-to-24-year-old male Marlboro smokers)," said the memo from J.B. Miller.

Mr. Couglin, in a review of the released documents, termed the reference to 13-to-24 a "slip."

JUST A TYPO

RJR said the memo refers to the project being a priority in 13 regions and the typist simply mistyped "13" again when the age range clearly referred to in other related documents was "18 to 24."

nUnsigned notes of an Aug. 12, 1973, meeting about Winston advertising, addressed the need to reverse the brand's decline. "In view of the need to reverse the preference for Marlboros among younger smokers, I wonder whether comic strip-type copy might get higher readership among younger people . . . It would certainly seem worth testing."

RJR said the company never used "comic" copy or comics placement for Winston, and the idea was seen not to have merit.

"Judge us by what we did, not what someone said over lunch," said the RJR spokeswoman. "In any company, there are good and bad ideas."

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