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
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
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
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
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
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.