San Francisco Examiner
Thursday, March 26, 1999
Tobacco firms sued over billboards: 40 are allegedly too close to
playgrounds, schools in S.F.; state not enforcing law
By Scott Winokur
of the Examiner Staff
Tired of waiting for the state to enforce a new anti-smoking law,
a San Francisco lawyer sued four tobacco companies Thursday, accusing
them of violating a statute barring billboard ads within 1,000 feet
of schools and playgrounds.
Forty allegedly illegal billboards were identified in the Mission
District, South of Market and Bayview-Hunters Point by Janet Mangini,
who sued on behalf of the general public under state laws against
unfair and illegal business practices.
"An easy drive around San Francisco makes it apparent that
there is widespread disobedience" of the state law that took
effect Jan. 1, said Mangini's suit, filed in San Francisco Superior
The suit called for a court order barring the ads, a public information
campaign in support of anti-smoking education in the classroom and
the return of all revenues earned by tobacco companies as a result
of the alleged illegal ads.
Named were: the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. of Louisville,
Ky. (Lucky Strike); R.J. Reynolds Tobacco of Winston-Salem, N.C.
(Camel and Winston); Philip Morris of Richmond, VA (Marlboro); and
Lorillard of Greensboro, N.C. (Newport).
"We haven't seen anything and we don't know what's in it,
so it's difficult to comment," Brown & Williamson spokesman
Mark Smith said Thursday.
Spokesmen for the other tobacco companies did not return phone
The suit did not name the state Department of Health Services,
which is responsible for enforcing the law, or billboard companies
that post and maintain the ads.
"Our concern is to get the billboards down, not to point blame
at the state," said attorney Alan Caplan of Bushnell & Caplan
in San Francisco, which filed the suit on Mangini's
jointly with Milberg, Weiss, Bershad, Hynes & Lerach of San
"The state has a role in implementing the law," Caplan
said, "but that doesn't excuse the tobacco companies from obeying
If Mangini wins, he added, it would mean offending billboards throughout
the state had to come down, not only those in the suit.
The Jan. 1 billboard ban, sponsored by Assemblywoman Carole Migden,
D-S.F., set fines of $200 to $4,000 for violations, but the state
health agency acknowledges doing nothing but plan for its implementation.
Funds and personnel have not been added and the law has not been
"It's outrageous," Migden said, hailing Thursday's lawsuit.
"If they feel they need to remedy it with a private action,
I understand the passion behind the effort."
She noted, however, that she also has been concerned about footdragging
"I asked my people to look into this to see if the machinery
had moved quickly and it hadn't, Migden said. "It's often the
case that we pass statutes that become effective Jan.1 and we're
not prepared to implement them."
Mike Genest, the health agency's deputy for prevention, said $148,000
has been earmarked to add one position to the department's eight-member
statewide anti-tobacco team, but the money won't become available
before July 1.
"They want a guy with a gun or a badge walking around the
schools. Well, we don't have field-level enforcement yet, but that
doesn't mean we're not doing anything," Genest said.
The health department has been in contact with the state's eight
major billboard companies, he said, and its attorneys have been
focusing on legal issues that may arise once enforcement begins.
But Migden's chief of staff, Dan Reeves, said he wasn't satisfied
with the state's excuses and vowed: "Until I see billboards
coming down, particularly in San Francisco, I'll be on them on a
Lou Lillian, head of San Francisco operations for Outdoor Systems,
which owns 19 of the 40 billboards identified in the suit, said
his company has been moving on its own to "self-police"
under the ban.
"We may drop the ball from time to time, but we're trying
to do it ourselves and wean ourselves from tobacco," Lillian