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Tobacco Litigation and Enforcement

In 1998, landmark litigation by California and dozens of other states against the major U.S. tobacco companies, over decades of allegedly deceitful advertising and marketing of tobacco to children, produced far-reaching changes in the way cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products are advertised and promoted in California and across the nation.

The changes resulted from the historic Master Settlement Agreement, or “MSA”, in which the four largest tobacco companies agreed to restrictions on their marketing practices and to pay billions of dollars annually to the states.

Gone now are cartoon characters in cigarette ads, like the infamous Joe Camel, that appealed to youngsters, along with cigarette ads on billboards along our highways and T-shirts, caps and gear bags adorned with tobacco brand names. These and many other marketing restrictions now apply to an overwhelming majority of U.S. tobacco companies, as over 40 other tobacco companies have joined the MSA since 1998. Health experts confirm that most people can avoid becoming addicted to the nicotine in tobacco products if they can stay tobacco-free during adolescence and young adulthood.

Through April 2010, tobacco companies have paid more than $74 billion to California and 45 other states, with California’s $9.3 billion share being divided between the state and the state’s counties and four largest cities.

The Attorney General's Tobacco Litigation and Enforcement Section holds the tobacco industry accountable for strict compliance with the MSA’s marketing restrictions and payment obligations. In addition, the Tobacco Section enforces a number of state laws and programs that regulate the promotion and sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products in the state, including the state’s Tobacco Directory, which lists the brands of cigarettes that may lawfully be sold in California.

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