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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Is Big Tobacco Being Forced to Harm Itself?

Aired June 13, 2003 - 19:32   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: A couple of big tobacco companies are in a huff over California's tough anti-smoking ads.
Take a look at one of them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is more than just a playground. This is a breeding ground for the new smoker. Now we've hired good-looking people to provide these young adults with free cigarettes, free teaching, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and they don't even consider themselves to be actual smokers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They call it social smoking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you know what? You can call it anything you want. But the truth is, in a few years this group -- a pack a day. You watch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our brand too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brilliant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard say the state should not use cigarette tax money to pay for such advertisements like that one that basically bash their product. So are they being forced to help cut their own throats? That is partly their argument in a lawsuit.

Want to discuss it further with Daniel Zingale, California's depute chief of staff and cabinet secretary. Also with us, Joe Escher, outside counsel for R.J. Reynolds.

Gentlemen, both of you, appreciate you joining us.

Joe, want to start off with you. Your client, R.J. Reynolds, and the other tobacco company basically say, You don't just not like these ads. You say these ads violate your First Amendment rights. What do you mean?

JOE ESCHER, R. J. REYNOLDS COUNSEL: Well, that's right.

You know, Thomas Jefferson said it's sinful and tyrannical to make a man pay for speech that he disagrees with. And that's a very fundamental core First Amendment issue. You can't be forced to speak against yourself and that's exactly what ' happening with this.

COOPER: How is this -- how is this being forced to speak against yourself, in your opinion?

ESCHER: Because we pay the taxes that are designated to pay for these advertisements. So we directly fund those ads.

COOPER: Daniel, what about it? Is this a violation of the First Amendment?

DANIEL ZINGALE, CABINET SECRETARY: Well, the tobacco companies' ability to speak freely and get their message across is alive and well. Unfortunately, there are 75 pro-smoking ads for every one of the ads like the one you just saw. But the people of California and our governor, Gray Davis, have wisely said we're going to do everything we can to at least get the other side of the story out there, particularly to young people about the truth of what smoking does.

COOPER: But they can't advertise on TV.

ZINGALE: I'm sorry?

COOPER: They cannot advertise on television.

ZINGALE: Well, in California we have a number of ways that we're trying to reduce smoking, and it has been very effective. That's why they're trying to get the anti-tobacco ads off of television. The tobacco industry does spend $1.4 billion in advertising in various forms in California.

But these ads are making a difference. We have the lowest rate of smoking in the nation. And as a result, we're among the low in terms of lung cancer and we're going to keep that up.

COOPER: So you think that's what's behind it? They're basically scared because they think these are effective?

ZINGALE: There's no question the tobacco industry has tried their best lobbyists and their best lawyers to get the governor and the people of California to retreat from our anti-smoking campaign. They know the ads are working. That's why they're taking this extraordinary step to get us off the air.

COOPER: Let's take a look at another one of these ads. Let's take a look at it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The idea of a cigarette company doing a spot on teen prevention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) reverse psychology.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, you tell the average teen not to smoke and let's face it -- what's he going to do? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course they're going to want to smoke.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course. We like the word no. Because when we say no, your average teenager thinks, yes. I believe I will. It 's rebellious. It's cool. It's hip. And let's face it, rebellion looks pretty good with a cigarette hanging out of your mouth, tough guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Joe, these kind of ads -- I mean, are all ads to you offensive or is it these kind of particular ones which basically target tobacco executives or purport to portray tobacco executives sort of plotting and scheming?

ESCHER: We're actually only challenging about 10% percent of the ads. It's ads exactly like these that essentially accuse the tobacco executives and other employees of the tobacco companies of doing really outrageous and unlawful things that we're complaining about.

They can run the other ads. We don't have any problem with that. We don't have any problem with paying the taxes under Prop 99 to run factual ads about the health consequences of smoking.

What we do have a problem with is being forced to pay for ads that vilify the tobacco companies themselves.

COOPER: Daniel, is it fair game? Are these executives fair game?

ZINGALE: I'm afraid so. Unfortunately the ads are based on truth and recent history. But let me also point out, the ads that the tobacco industry objects to are the ones that are the most effective. And that's not surprising. It's the ones that stop people from smoking, get people who are smoking to quit, the ads that are effective in getting young people to think about the consequences and the motivations behind the appeal, the inundation they're receiving to go out and smoke. Those are the ads they want off the air. Those are the ads that our governor and our people are going to keep on the air.

COOPER: Joe, have tobacco executives sort of brought this upon themselves? I mean, there are some people who would say, you know, they have not always been forthcoming perhaps in some people's opinions?

ESCHER: Well, they haven't brought it on themselves. They don't have the slightest proof that the ad you just saw had any element of truth in it.

But that's really missing the First Amendment point. Whether they deserve it or whether they don't deserve it, they shouldn't be forced to pay for it themselves.

COOPER: Where does this go from here? Joe?

ESCHER: Well, I think we've argued it to the judge and it's really in the judge's hands now. He's going to decide whether to grant the preliminary injunction and stop the ads or he won't, and I'm sure either side will appeal after that decision is made.

COOPER: Daniel, think the ads will be taken off the air?

ZINGALE: I don't think so. They've put their best lobbyists, their best lawyers on it. But so far, we've been able to keep the momentum going against smoking in California. I think that will continue.

COOPER: All right. Daniel Zingale, Joe Escher, appreciate you joining us. Thanks.

ESCHER: Thanks very much.

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