Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. spent $367,000 to take out page ads in four major newspapers to blast The New York Times, claiming the newspaper "buried" a correction to a front-page story.
"To readers of The New York Times: Two weeks ago it was front-page news. This week it's a buried editor's note," said the ad from Arian Lowe & Travis, Louisville, Ky., slated to run last weekend in papers including the Times.
The ad referred to a May 7 story suggesting Brown & Williamson covered up results of its own studies of smoking hazards. A Page 2 editor's note ran May 21, saying the studies cited weren't conducted by Brown & Williamson.
The Times last week said Page 2 is its usual spot for corrections, and the paper gave that correction special treatment with a separate "Editor's Note."
Brown & Williamson said that wasn't enough. A letter to the paper from Chairman Thomas E. Sandefur Jr. said the was trying to "camouflage" its correction.
"It's as if any lapse or any transgression against normal journalistic practice is permissible so long as the ultimate goal is to discredit our company and the tobacco industry," Mr. Sandefur wrote.
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. also turned to newspaper ads to tell its story, in a series designed to rebut broader charges against the industry. Starting with page ads two days last week, RJR suggested the dangers of secondhand smoke are being overdramatized by anti-smoking forces.
RJR said the campaign from Doig, Elliott, Schur, New York, will continue, with spending depending on the need to respond.
With their aggressive response, the No. 2 and No. 3 tobacco marketers have joined industry leader Philip Morris USA in actively defending against a growing cacophony of anti-smoking complaints. Philip Morris signaled its new stridency when it sued ABC-TV on March 24 for $10 billion over charges made on several shows including "Day One."
Pressure against the tobacco industry continues to mount:
The California Senate could again vote on legislation to end the tax deductibility of tobacco advertising as soon as this week, despite defeating the measure May 26 on a 16-18 vote. An aide to state Sen. Gary Hart said the senator planned a new vote this week on the measure, ardently opposed by the tobacco and ad industries.
The state of Mississippi sued major tobacco companies, six tobacco wholesalers, their industry organizations and public relations agency Hill & Knowlton, seeking damages to cover the state's costs of treating tobacco-related illnesses. The suit also asks for a court order barring RJR's use of the Joe Camel illustrated character, alleging it appeals to children.
Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles on May 26 signed into law a measure that allows the state to file a similar suit as of July 1. In a state report released upon the signing, the governor said tobacco is responsible for about 28,000 state deaths annually and cost Florida more than $1.4 billion in direct healthcare charges last year.