SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The nation's second-largest tobacco company has been fined $20 million for pitching cigarettes to teens in the pages of Spin, Vibe, Hot Rod and Rolling Stone -- a ruling the company claims is censorship.
Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager ruled Thursday that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. violated a landmark 1998 settlement with 46 states that barred Big Tobacco from taking "any action, directly or indirectly, to target youth."
Reynolds, maker of the Camel, Winston, Doral and Salem brands, denied it deliberately was aiming for an underaged audience with its $200 million magazine campaign. The firm said it would appeal and will seek a stay of Prager's ruling.
"Today's decision might be politically correct but it disregarded the facts, the law, the First Amendment and the relevant provisions" of the nationwide tobacco settlement, Reynolds spokesman Tommy Payne said.
Prager issued his 19-page ruling after weighing evidence from a three-week trial in May. The California attorney general's office, which sued Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Reynolds last year, had asked the judge to fine Reynolds $20 million and ban it from advertising in 50 magazines often read by teens.
The judge did not go so far as to ban advertising in specific magazines but ordered Reynolds to take "reasonable measures" designed to reduce youth exposure to tobacco ads to a level "substantially lower" than its reach of adults.
Payne complained that the ruling imposed an "illogical double standard" in California because magazines that are "too youthful" for Camel cigarettes are still acceptable forums for beer, wine, liquor and R-rated movies.
The attorney general's office said it would monitor Reynolds' magazine advertising to ensure it complies with the judge's order.
"When hundreds of your customers die every day, the only way to stay in business is to hook new ones," Attorney General Bill Lockyer said in a statement. "But targeting children in your quest for new consumers is unlawful, shameful and will not be tolerated in California."
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