CHICAGO — The city is turning up the heat on tobacco marketing efforts.
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. was charged with distributing coupons for Camel cigarettes and smokeless tobacco without the appropriate license at a Lakeview bar earlier this month by the city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, according to the Mayor's Office.
The move "proved effective," and the company already has contacted the city "to talk about finding a solution," mayoral spokeswoman Catherine Turco said.
R.J. Reynolds, which could face a fine of up to $2,000, declined to comment.
The charges came after Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed for efforts to curb the use of menthol cigarettes last month. The key to those efforts, he said, is preventing so-called Big Tobacco from marketing its products to younger, more impressionable residents.
"Flavored tobacco is a leading gateway to smoking addiction for our youth, which is why we must come together as a community to protect our young people from what too often becomes a lifelong and life-threatening habit," Emanuel said. "I will work with the Board of Health and Chicagoans from across the city to expand our efforts to combat youth smoking."
Although the city said the coupons were distributed at a bar — clearly to an adult clientele — the Mayor's Office drew attention to how they're colorfully designed to appeal to younger potential smokers.
"The city is investigating whether the company or its agents distributed any coupons at other locations and will continue to investigate illegal tobacco activities," the Mayor's Press Office said.
The appeal of menthol cigarettes to novice smokers is also a key target of the city's anti-smoking campaign.
"Menthol-flavored cigarettes have affected generation after generation of youths in Chicago, and addressing the issue now is critically important to the health of our city," said Dr. Bechara Choucair, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, which has joined with the city's Board of Health at the mayor's urging to schedule a series of town hall meetings on the matter.
"With minority populations so disproportionately targeted by the tobacco industry, this is truly a matter of health justice and equity"
Four town hall meetings on menthol cigarettes are set for September. They'll be Sept. 5 at Chicago State University, 9501 S. King Drive; Sept. 10 at the Gen. Robert E. Wood Boys & Girls Club, 2950 W. 25th St.; Sept. 17 at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St.; and Sept. 19 at Austin Town Hall Park, 5610 W. Lake St. All begin at 6:30 p.m.
The meetings are expected to produce a report on how to proceed on limiting youth smoking.
The city's Business Affairs Department also is targeting those who potentially sell tobacco products to minors along Safe Passage routes to and from schools, with increased enforcement in those areas.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) endorsed that strategy, saying a source of trouble in his neighborhood is those selling loose cigarettes on the street to avoid local taxes.
"They start acting like drug dealers," Burnett said. "They own the corners. They're competing with each other.
"So definitely whatever we can do to stop them from selling loose cigarettes in the street I think is a good effort," Burnett added.