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Attorneys Seek Revival of California Tobacco Suit

SAN DIEGO -- California attorneys are trying to revive a class-action lawsuit, arguing that the once-popular "Joe Camel" campaign was strategically designed to recruit underage smokers, reported the Associated Press.

Lawyers representing Californians who began smoking as teens also argued that tobacco companies should not be allowed to use the First Amendment to illegally market cigarettes to children.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs asked the Fourth District Court of Appeal to revive a class-action lawsuit dismissed in 2002 by San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager.

San Diego lawyer David Markham said the First Amendment should not protect advertising that was deceptive and encouraged the illegal use of tobacco by minors. He pointed to the once-popular "Joe Camel" campaign for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., which is based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

While the campaign may appeal to some smokers of legal age, such advertisements should not be allowed because they also widely appeal to children who cannot legally smoke. Such image campaigns designed to appeal to children are particularly dangerous, he said.

Representing the tobacco companies, lawyer Daniel Collins argued that Prager correctly interpreted prior court decisions to find that such advertisements were protected speech. For example, he said, alcohol companies have been allowed to widely advertise in states where some counties ban liquor.

In his rebuttal, Markham said the very strategy of intentionally trying to recruit underage smokers, in violation of state law, makes the advertising improper.

The original lawsuit filed in 1998 named Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Tobacco Co. It sought to have the companies forfeit between $700 million and $2 billion believed to have been earned from sales to an estimated 1.5 million teen smokers in California between 1994 and 1999.

A ruling by the three-member panel is expected within 90 days.
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