One of the country's largest tobacco companies is seeing red over yellow. Lorillard Tobacco wants the FCC to put a stop to antismoking radio ads comparing cigarette ingredients to dog pee.
The battle pits Lorillard, maker of Newport, Kent and other brands, against the American Legacy Foundation, one of the advocacy groups created by the multimillion-dollar settlement between the tobacco industry and states' attorneys general. The FCC last week asked the public to comment on the company's argument.
Lorillard wants broadcasters to be prevented from airing radio spots featuring a phone conversation between a teenager and a company employee, who didn't realize the call was being. "John" identifies himself as a professional dog-walker and offers to sell the Lorillard worker—she remains immovable as a fire hydrant—"quality dog urine" after finding that the cigarettes contain urea.
The Greensboro, N.C., company argues that the ad violates an FCC ban on broadcasts of recordings made without the knowledge or permission of one of the parties and says it misleads listeners because no cigarette ingredients come from dog urine.
The spot is one in a long line of aggressive ads prepared by American Legacy aimed at decreasing youth smoking. The group's most famous ad featured 1,200 body bags lined up outside the New York office of Philip Morris.
Urea is a natural ingredient in both tobacco and urine, but Lorillard says the ad creates a false impression that dog urine is added to cigarettes.
American Legacy counters that the FCC ban on secret taping applies only to broadcasters themselves, to keep shock jocks from embarrassing unsuspecting listeners. If a ban is imposed, they say, tobacco companies will have too much power to insulate themselves from debate over a public health issue. "It would mean they never have to be publicly engaged," says Cheryl Healton, the group's chief executive.