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“It's the Law”

While most local ordinance activity in California was concentrated on clean indoor air at this time, there was also growing interest in passing local ordinances that would make it harder to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products to children. In response to this development, which was matched by a similar climate in other states for reducing youth access to tobacco products, the Tobacco Institute developed “It's the Law.” This program provided stickers that merchants could post to warn consumers that it was illegal to sell cigarettes to children. It was designed to head off laws that could impose meaningful enforcement provisions or penalties on retailers or tobacco companies.

By 1991, the tobacco industry was actively planning ways to use its “youth initiative” to undermine Proposition 99. Philip Morris intended to introduce legislation in several states to address sales penalties and vending machine restrictions in terms that were acceptable to the company.[9] Despite its ostensible goal, however, the program had nothing to do with decreasing the youth smoking rate: “The ultimate means for determining the success of this program will be: (1) A reduction in legislation introduced and passed restricting or banning our sales and marketing activities; (2) Passage of legislation favorable to the industry; (3) Greater support from business, parent and teacher groups.”[9] Although the tobacco industry claimed to have designed the program “to promote our objectives in preventing youth smoking while protecting our sales and marketing practices,”[10] its main purpose was clearly the latter.

The youth strategy was an important aspect of undermining Proposition 99. In a December 21 memo. T. C. Harris of RJ Reynolds wrote, “I believe that a concentrated implementation of the Youth Non-Smoking Program is a critical component, as it gives us a credible way to show that the Proposition is unnecessary, whether we do it via advertisements or in negotiations” (emphasis in original).[11] By 1991, the Tobacco Institute was also interested in how it could use the youth issue to gain the ear of elected officials. In May, Walter Woodson of the Tobacco Institute, was preparing a mailing to 6,000 California elected officials containing a press release on the Tobacco Institute's youth smoking initiative and a press kit on “It's the Law.” According to Woodson,


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The industry is being hit hard at the local level in California this year. We currently are facing more than forty local ordinances, many of which address more than one issue. As might be expected, a number of these bills have been introduced under the premise that youth have easy access to tobacco products. …Sending the youth materials to all elected officials in the state may help to alleviate the surge of introductions for the time being, and provide us with a vehicle to go in and meet with some of the representatives there. Additionally, such a mailing could assist with efforts to achieve broad distribution of the youth program throughout the state.[12]

In other words, the purpose of the program was to head off legislation restricting tobacco marketing.


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