Regional Health Council Charges Riverbend With Violating Federal Prohibition On Tobacco Advertising

Friday, June 18, 2010 - by Judy Frank

A coalition of local health-related agencies led by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Health Council says Riverbend Festival officials have violated a federal court agreement by allowing cigarette companies to promote their products to children, teens and young adults.

“(W)e observed this year that the Longhorn Tobacco Company trailer has been positioned next to the Children’s Play Area and the Camel Cigarette tent near the food court where many children and families gather,” the group said in a letter to Chip Baker, executive director of Friends of the Festival.



Mr. Baker also serves as a member of the Hamilton County school board which oversees public schools charged with educating local elementary, middle and high school students.

“In 1998, the attorneys general of 46 states, including Tennessee, signed a Master Settlement Agreement with the four largest tobacco companies in the U.S.,” according to the letter, which is signed by Howard Roddy, who chairs the regional health council and served as director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department for many years.

Current health department director Becky Barnes co-signed the document.

“The states settled Medicaid lawsuits against the tobacco industry for the recovery of tobacco-related health care costs. We remind you again that in exchange, the agreement prohibits tobacco advertising to young people less than 18 years of age,” the letter continues. “Tobacco use is a huge burden to the families in Tennessee and Hamilton County and is the most preventable cause of premature mortality and morbidity in the United States and in Tennessee.”

The letter, in its entirety, reads:

June 17, 2010
Chip Baker, Executive Director
Friends of the Festival
180 Hamm Road
Chattanooga, TN 37405-

This letter is a follow-up to correspondence dated December 31, 2009 and April 30, 2010, sent to you from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Health Council. These communications referenced the past practice of the Friends of the Festival allowing tobacco product vendors to advertise and distribute tobacco products at Riverbend in the presence of children, teens and young adults, which we believe is a violation of the federal Master Settlement Agreement of 1998.

It is with much regret that we find that you and your organization made the apparent
decision to proceed with having tobacco product vendors at the Riverbend Festival again this year, knowing that they are continuing to distribute free tobacco products including cigarette samples.

To add insult, we observed this year that the Longhorn Tobacco Company trailer has been positioned next to the Children’s Play Area and the Camel Cigarette tent near the food court where many children and families gather.

In 1998, the attorneys general of 46 states, including Tennessee, signed a Master Settlement Agreement with the four largest tobacco companies in the U.S. The states settled Medicaid lawsuits against the tobacco industry for the recovery of tobacco-related health care costs. We remind you again that in exchange, the agreement prohibits tobacco advertising to young people less than 18 years of age.

Tobacco use is a huge burden to the families in Tennessee and Hamilton County and is the most preventable cause of premature mortality and morbidity in the United States and in Tennessee.

Our data reflects that 22.6% of Hamilton County adults are current smokers. In Tennessee, smoking rates among 18-25 year olds, a group well represented at Riverbend, is 46.9%. Ninety percent of adult smokers start before the age of 19.

If adolescents and young adults can be kept tobacco-free, most will remain tobacco-free for the rest of their lives. Leading environmental risk factors for tobacco addiction include the accessibility and availability of tobacco products, tobacco advertising and promotion practices. The Master Settlement Agreement addresses these risk factors by banning free sampling of tobacco products where youth are present.

Again, we believe there is a violation of the Master Settlement Agreement, and enforcement could be brought from the State Attorney General’s office.

In addition to complying with the law, we urge you to be proactive and join other entities such as the Neyland Stadium and the Bristol Motor Speedway in making Riverbend a smoke-free outdoor venue, which would prevent deadly second hand smoke exposure to all festival goers.

The following organizations endorse this joint letter, urging your organization to adopt a new policy that protects our children and families from the influence of the tobacco industry:

Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Health Council
Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department
Smoke-Free Chattanooga Coalition
American Lung Association Chattanooga Chapter
American Cancer Society Chattanooga Chapter
American Heart Association

Respectfully,

Howard Roddy
Chair, Chattanooga-Hamilton County
Regional Health Council

Becky Barnes
Administrator, Chattanooga- Hamilton
County Health Dept.

cc: Hugh Moore, Chair, Board of Directors, Friends of the Festival
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General, State of Tennessee
Dr. Diane Fillman, Smoke-Free Chattanooga Coalition
Shirley Cudabac, Executive Director, American Lung Association Chattanooga Chapter
Lisa Bishop, Executive Director, American Cancer Society Chattanooga Chapter
Chastity A. Mitchell, Esq., Senior Director, American Heart Association
Chattanooga Media


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