RJR sues FTC to retaliate for attacks against Joe Camel

Feature | June 30, 1997

RJR sues FTC to retaliate for attacks against Joe Camel

06/30/97

NORTH CAROLINA--R.J. Reynolds filed suit in mid-June against the Federal Trade Commission in federal District Court in Winston-Salem, claiming that the recent "political attacks" and harassment of the company for its "Joe Camel" advertising campaign violate the FTC's own procedural rules and the Government in the Sunshine Act.

The suit follows the FTC's recent unfair-advertising complaint that asked an administrative law judge to ban the cartoon character from magazines, billboards, t-shirts and other venues accessible to children.

In 1994 the commission voted not to file a complaint against R.J. Reynolds, finding that the company proved its advertising campaign did not target children who were too young to smoke legally.

But in late May, the FTC voted 3-2 to file a complaint, citing new evidence about the company's advertising tactics.

R.J. Reynolds said the decision to reopen its 1994 complaint was not based on changes in fact, law or public interest, which is required by FTC rules and procedures.

The company argued that the FTC's and President Bill Clinton's continuing "harassment" of the company, coupled with the recent complaint, which it labeled as a response to political pressure, contravene measures of the Administrative Procedure Act.

The suit also charges numerous Sunshine law violations, including suppressing notice of FTC meetings until after votes were taken, failing to provide meeting minutes and transcripts, and closing a meeting without a vote, or failing to make that vote public.

The suit was filed in the midst of negotiations between the country's largest tobacco companies and states seeking to recoup their health care expenses attributable to tobacco-related illnesses. A settlement of those suits, announced days after the complaint was filed, would terminate the biggest lawsuits facing the tobacco industry in return for nicotine and marketing regulations.

The settlement, which includes provisions that would eliminate Joe Camel, the Marlboro Man and other such characters, must be approved by Congress because it broadens FTC powers and limits consumers' ability to sue in the future. A Reynolds spokesperson said that the suit against the FTC will not be dropped until the settlement is approved by Congress.

An FTC spokeswoman denied the company's allegations, saying the commission did not violate any laws in pursuing the Joe Camel case. (R.J. Reynolds v. Federal Trade Commission)