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By Published on .

3M Media's decision to stop taking tobacco ads is prompting some tobacco companies to reassess outdoor spending, even as they contend the most likely winners in this latest development are 3M's rivals.

Both Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. said 3M's move to stop taking new tobacco boards at yearend and let existing contracts expire over the next three years is easily overcome by using rival sign companies. But it is causing them to consider alternative media as well.

"While it's an important advertising tool, it's only one piece of the mix," said Tom Fitzgerald, public relations manager for Brown & Williamson, which had 5% of its outdoor advertising with 3M.

RJR said it had only a small portion of its boards with 3M and would re-examine spending priorities before rebooking the space.

The Tobacco Institute, meanwhile, warned the move could also put more heat on out-of-home media companies to remove other "politically incorrect" ads, including those from alcoholic beverage and fast-food marketers.


Tobacco marketers spent $150 million on outdoor advertising last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting. 3M got about $4 million of that.

Outdoor advertising by tobacco companies has been under attack recently by tobacco industry critics and the Food & Drug Administration, which charge that boards near schools appeal to youth.

3M Media's parent company had been targeted repeatedly by tobacco critics and stockholders. In 1990, 3M Media agreed to cut its boards containing tobacco ads by 50% over five years. Stockholders were slated to vote on another anti-tobacco resolution-presented by Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and Doctors Ought to Care-at the company's annual meeting in two weeks.

In making its move, 3M cited "a public perception toward tobacco advertising that is increasingly negative" and its shrinking tobacco ad revenues vs. the large size of its healthcare-related businesses.


Critics immediately hailed the decision, hoping it would prompt other out-of-home media companies to re-examine their policies.

"If 3M was one of the big four companies, we've got one leg knocked out from the table," said the Rev. Michael Crosby, the Interfaith Center's representative.

However, there were few indications rivals would follow.

"It was a unique set of circumstances for 3M," said Don Davison, Gannett Outdoor president-CEO.

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