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    California Sues U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co.

    Claims company promoted Skoal to under-18s.

    The state of California sued U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. of Greenwich, Conn., saying the company violated the 1998 national settlement agreement by promoting Skoal smokeless tobacco at National Hot Rod Association drag racing events where young drivers compete, according to an Associated Press report..

    The lawsuit filed in San Diego Superior Court alleges the smokeless tobacco company violated a provision of the settlement that bars tobacco companies from any brand name sponsorship of any event where youths under age 18 compete.

    Last year, the company violated that agreement by sponsoring the POWERade Drag Racing Series and Sport Compact Series events, alleges the suit filed by Attorney General Bill Lockyer. The first sponsorship remains in effect, while the second ended last year.

    Depending on the event, the sponsorship let the company put large "Skoal Racing" signs across the bottom of big-screen video displays, install signs along the drag strips and broadcast public address announcements, the suit alleges.

    The company, in a statement, denied violating the settlement and said it had been cooperating to resolve the issues raised by Lockyer's office.

    "Our company takes great care not to market our products to youth. If it proves ultimately necessary, and we hope that it does not, we will defend ourselves vigorously in the California courts," the company said.

    The suit seeks monetary damages and a court order blocking any future sponsorship agreements that would violate the settlement.

    This is not the first time U.S. Smokeless has been accused of flaunting the youth marketing provisions of the smokeless Master Settle Agreement. A 2002 study by the Massachusetts Department of Health showed the company increased its advertising in youth-oriented publications after the settlement, placing nearly half the company's magazine advertising in publications with high youth readership, such as Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated.

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