Marlboro Country is off limits to the makers of children's products.
Philip Morris U.S.A. said Monday that it would spend $500,000 for an advertising campaign warning manufacturers that they will face "legal action" if they use any of the cigarette company's trademarks on children's products ranging from candy cigarettes to toy water pistols.
"We have nothing to do with these products," said John R. Nelson, vice president of corporate affairs. "But we are continually being criticized for them. We don't want kids to smoke, and we don't want our logos on kids' products."
One of the upcoming ads shows the familiar Marlboro and Virginia Slims trademarks and warns, "If you use these trademarks, we'll see you in court."
The cigarette giant said it has been reluctant to sue the companies that have misused its trademarks--on about 1,100 products--over the past 10 years. "We're mostly dealing with small manufacturers here," said Nelson. "If we tried to drive them out of business by suing, it would look pretty bad for us."
But one tobacco industry critic says the timing of the announcement is hardly coincidental. Congress continues to study the issue of proposed restrictions on cigarette advertising. "Philip Morris is just trying to counter all the bad publicity they're getting from that," said Phil Wilbur, a spokesman for Advocacy Group, a Washington-based anti-smoking organization. "This gives them the ability to claim that they're on the good side of this issue all of a sudden. It is a very good PR tactic."