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Smoked Out

Wednesday, May 2

SF Weeklypublishes a story headlined "Smoking Gun," about recently uncovered documents showing that tobacco company R.J. Reynolds developed a "subculture urban marketing" campaign targeting San Francisco gays and homeless people. Its name: Project SCUM. Asked how such a memorable acronym came about, a Reynolds spokeswoman said: "We don't respond to those documents. They are part of the master settlement agreement, and are out there for people to draw their own conclusions."

Friday, May 4, 10:05 a.m.

SF Weeklystaff writer Joel P. Engardio receives this voice-mail: "Hi, Joel. My name is Maura Payne at the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. I'm the vice president of communications. Can I get the opportunity to talk to you again? Apparently, I had a junior PR person respond to your media call, and I think they overly broadly or misapplied a policy on not commenting. Clearly, when I saw your story and the documents in question, we should not have declined to comment on them because they are truly offensive and unacceptable."

Friday, May 4, 11:30 a.m.

SF Weekly's Engardio speaks to R.J. Reynolds' Payne.

Payne: "I apologize, frankly. Normally we don't comment on old documents, but in this case we should have recognized this is an entirely different matter. It's hard to put into words how upset our management was when this story came out. As soon as I saw your article, I took it to our CEO and he was very upset. We found the document offensive. It is completely contrary to how we run our business, and our mind-set."

Engardio: "The documents date from as recently as 1995 through 1997. Has there been a major change in your company's business practices and mind-set since 1997?"

Payne: "Clearly within the last five years, this is a gross departure to how we operate and think about things. If these had been 30- or 40-year-old documents, we could say, "Who knew what the people back then were thinking?' But this is troublesome. It is disturbing to see that whoever created the document is potentially still at this company. We are in the process of trying to find out who that is."

Engardio: "Part of the documents look like printouts of a Power Point presentation. Do you know how many people at R.J. Reynolds may have seen this presentation?"

Payne: "The presentation did originate in the sales office. It was an attempt to find better exposure for our brands. But it had an entirely inappropriate title. We are embarrassed to have a document like that associated with our company."

 
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