R.J. Reynolds' billboards allowed
Court rules against Spitzer on Watkins Glen tobacco ads
Posted: Tuesday September 2, 2003 5:39PM; Updated: Tuesday September 2, 2003 5:39PM
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- The state's highest court Tuesday refused to disturb lower court rulings that rejected state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's attempts to limit billboard advertisements by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. at the Watkins Glen International Speedway.
Without comment, the Court of Appeals said it would not hear a case based on Spitzer's contention that R.J. Reynolds was violating terms of the 1998 Master Settlement between the state and the tobacco industry by the year-round billboards at Watkins Glen.
Under the settlement, which was negotiated for New York by Spitzer's predecessor Dennis Vacco, the signs should have gone up no more than 90 days before the NASCAR event at Watkins Glen and come down 10 days after the race ended, Spitzer argued.
But R.J. Reynolds contended that the Master Settlement allowed it to sponsor one sports-related event a year and that its Winston Cup stock car series is a continuous event beginning in February every year and ending in November. It argued that its billboards at Watkins Glen were permissible throughout the Winston Cup series season, not just around the time of the annual NASCAR road race at the Glen.
R.J. Reynolds lawyer Joe Escher welcomed Tuesday's ruling and said he didn't think the Court of Appeals would hear the case.
"I'm happy about it and I expected it," he said.
Spitzer started his suit in 2001 as part of a coordinated effort with other attorneys general to punish R.J. Reynolds for allegedly violating advertising restrictions in the Master Settlement. The attorneys general of 31 other states filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the New York case backing Spitzer.
Courts in other states have also found for R.J. Reynolds in race track billboard cases brought outside of New York.
"The advertising restrictions in the tobacco settlement are an important tool in protecting public health in New York state," Christine Pritchard, a spokeswoman for Spitzer, said Tuesday. "We are disappointed in the Court of Appeals' ruling declining to hear the case."
Spitzer's suit noted that besides the NASCAR event at Watkins Glen, the track is also used for other races, a wine festival and other public events throughout the year.
In February 2003, R.J. Reynolds cited marketing restrictions and an uncertain business climate in the tobacco industry for its decision to stop sponsoring the Winston Cup racing series. Telecommunications giant Nextel in June agreed to pay $700 million to sponsor the premier NASCAR racing series beginning in 2004.