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Attorney General Lockyer Calls on R.J. Reynolds to End Direct Mail Birthday Promotion that Encourages Irresponsible Drinking
‘Drinks on Us’ Coasters May Reach Underage Drinkers and Smokers
(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today called on R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJR) to immediately cease its “Drinks on Us” birthday promotion, saying the direct mail campaign encourages irresponsible drinking by young adults and may be reaching underage drinkers and smokers.
“For years, RJR has demonstrated it doesn’t care about the health of our children, doing its best to hook them on cigarettes with targeted advertising, free samples and other schemes,” said Lockyer. “Now it has expanded its horizons to encourage young adults to go on drinking binges that endanger themselves and others. This corporate conduct without a conscience must stop now.”
Lockyer, joined by Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, urged RJR to end the promotion in a letter sent today to Susan M. Ivey, the company’s board chairwoman and chief executive officer.
The “Drinks on Us” campaign markets RJR’s Camel cigarettes and distributes the materials to recipients on their birthday. The outside of the envelope reads, “Camel. It’s your Birthday. Drinks on us.”
Inside, the envelope contains six coasters, each with a recipe for an alcoholic drink. Under the recipes are tag lines that encourage excessive, irresponsible and dangerous drinking. The tag lines include: “LAYER IT ON, GO ‘TIL DAYBREAK,” “MIX THREE SHOTS TOGETHER OVER ICE, THEN MAKE SURE YOU’RE SITTING,” KISS YOUR WORRIES GOODBYE,” “IF YOU TURN GREEN, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG,” and “POUR OVER ICE, THEN LET IT BURN.”
RJR officials contend the company sends the mailings only to recipients who are over 21 years old on their birthday. But the company has refused to provide the Attorneys General with adequate assurances that the materials are not sent to people who are under the legal ages for drinking or smoking.
Lockyer, Curran and Spitzer initially asked RJR to end the promotion in a November 21, 2005 letter. The letter cited the serious public health dangers posed by underage and excessive drinking, as well as “considerable scientific evidence that the combined use of cigarettes and alcohol presents health risks over and above the risks posed by smoking alone.” RJR rebuffed the request to stop the promotion.
In today’s letter, the Attorneys General said they were disappointed by RJR’s refusal to end the campaign and added, “...RJR’s disregard for public health as demonstrated in this marketing campaign is unconscionable.” The Attorneys General added, “We remain hopeful that RJR will recognize that it should not be encouraging excessive alcohol consumption by young adults, and will abandon this promotion immediately.”
The “Drinks on Us” coasters specifically mention popular brands such as Jack Daniels, Baileys Irish Creme, Kahlua, Finlandia Vodka, Southern Comfort and Bacardi Limon. The companies that own those brands – Brown-Forman, Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Bacardi – have told the Attorneys General in writing that RJR launched the promotion without their knowledge, consent or participation. All four companies have written to RJR demanding that RJR stop using their brand names in the promotion.