Circle K Violates MSA Advertising Restriction

This is a common advertisement found in the Albuquerque area. This banner ad features Philip Morris Marlboro cigarettes. The banner clearly exceeds the 14 square foot limit specified in the attorneys general and tobacco industry settlement signed in November 1998. This Circle K is located just up the street from Manzano High School. It is a popular spot with students. Philip Morris and other tobacco companies say they are committed to reducing youth smoking.
    Yeah, right!

Circle K top Circle K bottom
  location: 13401 Lomas Blvd. NE
photo taken November 1999

Bill Godshall released this story from Pennsylvania today:

State looking into Wawa's cigarette ads
The deal with tobacco firms didn't include retailers.
The Delco chain's billboards, and critics' ire, are up anew.

By Glen Justice
Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/23/99

HARRISBURG - Earlier this year, major tobacco companies agreed to stop advertising on billboards in a settlement with 46 states aimed at ending health-related lawsuits. Retailers weren't part of the deal.

And so Wawa Inc., for the second time this year, is taking its low-price message to the public. Billboards have recently appeared in downtown Philadelphia, proclaiming: "Lowest pack prices allowed by law. #1 brand even lower!"

Antitobacco activists say the billboards violate the nationwide tobacco settlement. Yesterday, State Attorney General Mike Fisher - who is responsible for enforcing the settlement in Pennsylvania - said he was looking into the ad campaign.

Wawa officials, meanwhile, note that the billboards do not contain tobacco-company symbols or logos and say their competitors are producing similar ads. "The settlement did not include retailers," Wawa spokeswoman Lori Bruce said. "Therefore, billboard advertising by retailers is legal."

The $206 billion settlement prohibits, with few exceptions, the tobacco companies from erecting billboard-style advertising. Statewide, tobacco billboards came down in April and antismoking messages were unveiled.

The settlement also contains language that prohibits tobacco companies from authorizing other companies to advertise their brands. It requires tobacco companies to take "commercially reasonable steps" in the event that a third party, such as a retailer, advertises brand-name cigarettes. But it does not specify what those steps should be.

"We'll take a look and our lawyers will look at [the settlement], and we'll go from there," Sean Connolly, a Fisher spokesman, said. "I can't tell you what action we will take."

In May, a Wawa billboard campaign touting Marlboros prompted Fisher to negotiate with the company. Wawa voluntarily took down the ads. But it announced a week ago that it was reinstating them - without specific mention of any brand name.

The ads neither depict cigarettes nor contain the surgeon general's warning. They do not even include the word cigarettes. Rather, they contain the Wawa logo, a warning that Wawa does not sell tobacco to minors, and a slogan promising the lowest prices on the leading brand.

Activists, however, say that everyone knows that the number- one brand is Marlboro, manufactured by Philip Morris, and that the ads are nothing but an end run around the settlement.

"This is incredibly devious," said Jeff Barg, chairman of the Philadelphia-based Tobacco Free Education and Action Coalition for Health. "They are trying to get away with promoting low-priced Marlboros, but they don't say, 'Cigarettes,' they don't say, 'Marlboros.' It's indirect, but it's clearly there."

Officials of Wawa, a Delaware County-based convenience- store chain, did not say how many billboards had been erected, but antitobacco activists said two had been spotted, one on City Avenue, the other near 30th Street Station.

When the May billboards touting Marlboros were pulled by Wawa, a company release said that the ads had been "effective" but that "we have decided to discontinue their use." The release claimed that Wawa had no legal obligation to discontinue the ads but that they had "created confusion in the marketplace."

Activists who protested the May billboards wanted Fisher to seek sanctions against Philip Morris, rather than negotiate with Wawa. One activist, Dr. Robert Sklaroff, filed suit in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, asking that the court sanction the cigarette maker. The suit was thrown out last week.

Now, activists are again asking Fisher to address the matter, which they call a "clear-cut violation" of the settlement. "The fact that Wawa is doing this again indicates to me that he made a mistake by not going for sanctions," Barg said.

Connolly, though, said that any violation had to be clear-cut and the ads investigated. He said limits on retailer advertising are a "gray area," unlike the language that applies to tobacco companies. "We expected skirmishes over what is covered," he said.

Wawa officials, meanwhile, say competitors in three of the five states where the company does business - including Pennsylvania - are using billboards. Furthermore, Bruce said, the price break was available for only a short time, and the ads should eliminate earlier complaints.

"The billboards are very general in nature," she said. "These billboards do not use any symbols or logos." The billboards are part of a larger campaign that includes print advertising.

Bruce said Philip Morris had nothing to do with the campaign. A "manufacturer-sponsored promotion" label on the billboards refers to the price break, she added.

Philip Morris officials also said yesterday that the company had had no involvement with the campaign and had yet to even see the billboards. "We don't encourage others to do what we can't do," Philip Morris spokesman Mike Pfeil said.


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