In what was hailed as a victory for anti-smoking efforts nationwide, R.J. Reynolds Co. has agreed to pay 14 California cities and counties $10 million, most of which will fund an anti-smoking campaign aimed at teenagers.
As part of the deal, the cigarette maker will stop its Joe Camel advertising campaign in California.
“The fence is around California: No more Joe Camel ads,” said Louise Renne, the city attorney in San Francisco.
R.J. Reynolds announced it would retire Joe Camel in July, a month after tobacco companies agreed to a proposed $368.5 billion national settlement that would put strict curbs on advertising.
But withdrawal of the ads was voluntary, pending approval of the nationwide deal in Congress.
The settlement in California, announced Monday, gives the jurisdictions the power to force R.J. Reynolds to get rid of the cartoon-like Camel by the end of the year - even if a national deal is not reached.
“Now we have an enforceable agreement,” said Elizabeth Laporte, chief of special litigation for San Francisco, the lead plaintiff in the case.
Representatives for R.J. Reynolds could not immediately be reached for comment. Under the settlement, the company admits no wrongdoing.
The deal is believed to be the first time that any local government has recovered money from a tobacco company. California and several other states have settled suits against the Liggett Group, a cigarette maker, but to date cities and counties have not been reimbursed, Laporte said.
The case was scheduled to go to trial in December. The city of San Francisco, along with San Jose, Los Angeles and 11 counties, sought civil penalties against R.J. Reynolds for targeting children with the Joe Camel ads, as well as the return of millions of dollars in profits from selling to underage smokers.
Most of the $10 million settlement will fund anti-smoking ads. R.J. Reynolds will pay $1 million to help reimburse cities and counties for the costs of the lawsuit.
Renne said the settlement would speed the demise of Joe Camel, whose images have been fast disappearing from billboards and magazine ads - replaced by the original red camel.
The settlement does not affect two other lawsuits filed by the city against R.J. Reynolds and other tobacco companies seeking compensation for the millions of dollars the city spends annually to care for people with smoking-related illnesses.