In a pointed protest over what it called unfair federal regulatory demands, the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. yesterday dropped off 7 tons of documents at the Federal Trade Commission.
The documents, in 200 boxes, represent papers subpoenaed by the FTC in its 15-year-old investigation into whether cigarette advertising is deceptive or unfair - which the FTC staff alleged in a 1964 report. Brown & Williamson claims the documents were gathered at a cost of $800,000 24,000 man-hours of work.
Although five other cigarette companies decided to gradually comply with similar subpoenas, producing small amounts of documents as the FTC requested them over the life of the investigation, B&W decided it would be a more dramatic protest on their part to deliver all the requested material at once.
B&W's efforts to secure publicity on this issue were a bit too successful. On Tuesday, the truck driver carrying the 200 cartons of documents, unaware of B&W's extensive efforts to have the press at yesterday's delivery, arrived at the FTC two days early with the shipment. But when he called B&W from the FTC they told him to take his truck and the shipment back, and return in two days. The incident resulted in a news story poking fun at B&W.
While B&W vice president and chief counsel Ernest Pepples, who supervised the delivery of the materials, acknowledged that "we wanted to get some attention on this, and in a way we may have popped off some firecrackers," he nevertheless contended that "this is a very serious issue.
"We've got some fairly serious 4th and First Amendmest questions here that deserve some study," he said. "The FTC officials there when we delivered the documents admitted that this wasn't even the largest submission they had ever seen."
Pepples said the tobacco industry investigation is one of several FTC investigations that are extremely broad and unfair to the industries involved because the agency doesn't know what it is looking for, and is essentially on a "fishing expedition."
Pepples said B&W will take the FTC to "The highest court we can," to protest the subpoena. It was only after a federal court refused a B&W request for a restraining order against the investigation pending of that 1976 suit that the company finally did comply.
FTC attorney Jane Dolkart disagreed with Pepples' contentions about how broad and unfocused the FTC probis.
"I think we have indicated a purpose and scope of this investigation as clearly as possible," she said. "The investigation is into consumer attitudes and beliefs about cigarettes and cigarette advertising, and falls under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which regulates unfair and deceptive advertising practices. Obviously, we are investigating whether the cigarette industry is violating advertising practices." CAPTION: Picture, Brown & Williamson Tobacco official Ernest Pepples (with pipe) watches as load of 200 boxes is moved into Federal Trade Commission offices yesterday - part of a "media event" protest over government regulatory demands. By Joel Richardson - The Washington Post