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BALTIMORE -- Maryland has filed a lawsuit against Brown & Williamson, the maker of Kool cigarettes, charging that the company is illegally targeting young people with a marketing campaign built around hip-hop music, reported the Associated Press.
The suit, announced Thursday by Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, asked that Brown & Williamson be fined at least $5.3 million and prohibited from continuing with its Kool Mixx 2004 promotional campaign in Maryland.
"They took hip-hop, one of the music forms most popular with youth ages 12 to 17, and literally wrapped it around their cigarettes," said Marlene Trestman, special assistant to the attorney general.
Mark Smith, spokesman for Louisville, Ky.-based Brown & Williamson, said the campaign "celebrates hip-hop music and the art form of the mixers, the DJs, who mix music." Contests are held in bars where alcohol is sold and young people are not admitted, he said.
"How can you be marketing to kids when it's an adult-only function? It's nonsensical," Smith said. "There is no basis for this suit. The entire campaign is conducted in adult-only venues, adult-only functions."
The lawsuit is based on the MSA among states and tobacco companies that prohibits marketing cigarettes to minors.
Trestman said Maryland did not object to the campaign in the beginning when it consisted of contests among hip-hop mixers that were held at bars. But the situation changed when the company began advertising in magazines popular with young people and using promotional items such as specially marked cigarette packs, interactive CD-ROMs, stick radios and an interactive Kool Mixx Web site.
"At no time did Brown & Williamson acknowledge that this violated the master settlement agreement," Trestman said.
According to the suit filed by the Maryland attorney general, states notified Brown & Williamson by four letters and a conference call in March and April that they thought the campaign was targeted to minors and violated the settlement agreement.
Maryland is the second state to file suit against the Kool Mixx campaign. The New York attorney general got a preliminary order last month from that state's Supreme Court, halting use of the Web site and a live audio Web cast of DJ contests along with the recall of special cigarette packs and brand merchandise.