(SAN DIEGO, December 7, 2001) - What do NASCAR, baby bibs, and rodeos have to do with Big Tobacco? The connection was on display today at a hearing in San Diego Superior Court. Judge Ronald Prager upheld his previous ruling declaring R.J. Reynolds (RJR) Tobacco Company guilty of violating the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) through the year-round display of NASCAR Winston Cup Series and NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series signs at two California raceways. The MSA limits the posting of outdoor advertising for tobacco brand name sponsorships at event sites to 90 days before and 10 days after a sponsored event.
Many tobacco-control advocates in attendance at today's hearing saw the case as representative of much more than the signs in question. "The larger issue with tobacco industry sponsorship of family-oriented events such as NASCAR racing is the immense amount of advertising these companies get by exposing the audience to their products and brand name‹ and not just those who attend the races, but the millions who watch them on TV," said Debra Kelley, Vice President of Government Relations for the American Lung Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties.
Federal law prohibits TV advertising of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, so the tobacco industry has turned to sponsorship of motor sports events to maintain a high level of exposure and attract new customersand the television audience for motor sports is far from adults-only. According to reports, the average 12-17 year-old network TV audience for NASCAR programming in 1997 was estimated to be 11 million, up from 7.8 million the previous year. The total television audience of children under 17 for motor sports for 1996 was an amazing 70.7 million.
San Diego County is home to an active group of watchdog volunteers who work undercover to document tobacco industry violations of the MSA at events throughout the County, and then turn this information over to the Attorney General for follow-up. Many of these volunteers were in court today.
Cindi Barber, Chair of the American Lung Association's Tobacco-Free Youth Coalition and Manager of Tobacco, Nutrition/Youth Programs for the American Cancer Society, attended the 2001 Poway Rodeo in September and witnessed first-hand MSA violations committed by U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company through its sponsorship of the family-oriented event. The rodeo includes events for children, such as Mutton Bustin' and the Challenged Children's Rodeo, and attracts an audience with a significant proportion of youth. However, the MSA prohibits tobacco sponsorship of events with participants under the age of 18.
"My most horrifying observation was baby bibs emblazoned with Copenhagen, the name of the sponsoring company's leading brand of smokeless tobacco," said Barber.
"During the three years since the MSA was enacted we have watched Big Tobacco find new ways to break the rules and market their lethal product," said Marianne Brown, concerned parent and Poway resident. "Californians can help close the MSA loopholes and hold tobacco companies accountable by reporting violations."
To find out more about what you can do to report an MSA violation, call the American Lung Association at 1-800-LUNG-USA.