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Philip Morris chief's testimony denies tobacco ads target kids

In a deposition given one week before two studies found an increase in cigarette advertising in magazines popular among teenagers, the CEO of Philip Morris Inc. rejected accusations that his company's ads target children.

"It's bad for my business for kids to be buying cigarettes," Michael Szymanczyk, president and CEO of Philip Morris Inc., said in the May 10 deposition, obtained by the Associated Press.

The Virginia Slims theme "Don't let the goody-two-shoes get you down" is "absolutely not" telling kids to ignore health warnings from their parents, doctors and surgeons general, and it is actually pitched to adult women who smoke other brands, Szymanczyk said in the sworn statement.

"I reject the premise that we have any interest in replacing smokers or recruiting new smokers in its entirety," he said.

When asked if adolescent boys are reading the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, Szymanczyk, a father of three older boys, said, "I should hope not" because company ads in the magazine are based on its adult circulation.

The two studies, both released May 17 after his statements, indicated cigarette makers increased advertising in magazines with large teen readerships, despite a 1998 agreement in lawsuit settlements with states not to market to young people.

"We believe we have adhered to both the letter and the spirit of the tobacco settlement," Philip Morris spokesman Tom Ryan said after the studies were released.

Tobacco company Brown & Williamson disputed the studies' method of assessing readership.

While the industry is committed to advertising in magazines with less than 15 percent teenage subscribers, ad decisions are based on subscription numbers rather than actual readership.

Szymanczyk's deposition was taken in preparation for his testimony against a potentially record-breaking punitive damage award in a landmark class-action smokers lawsuit in Florida. Opening statements begin Monday in Miami.

The jury already has ruled against the industry twice, deciding the nation's five biggest cigarette makers conspired to produce a deadly product and awarding $12.7-million in compensatory damages to three smokers representing an estimated 500,000 sick Florida smokers.

Industry-leading Philip Morris, had half of the U.S. cigarette market and $19.6-billion in revenues last year.