The ad industry is undertaking an initiative to produce and distribute public service messages aimed at underage smokers even as it backs away from developing voluntary guidelines for "age-restricted" advertising.
The Advertising Council confirmed last week that after being approached by the American Association of Advertising Agencies and other leading ad trade groups, it's taking the unusual step of seeking a public service organization that wants to sponsor anti-smoking advertising and would be willing to pay production fees.
Usually it's the other way around, with organizations seeking the council's help in producing and distributing PSAs.
Ad Council President Ruth Wooden said anti-smoking ads aimed at teens are a logical part of the organization's Commitment 2000 program, focused primarily on children's issues.
FOCUS ON KIDS' HEALTH
"It has to do with the health of children," she said. "Our new mission statement is to use advertising and communications to help all children have a better chance to achieve their full potential."
She said an anti-smoking campaign makes sense. "It is an important issue."
The heads of the leading ad trade groups were more blunt, telling Advertising Age last week they believe an anti-smoking campaign and public education are realistic alternatives to an industry code.
"We do have a responsibility in this area, and we've taken it seriously," said Wally Snyder, president of the American Advertising Federation.
`THE ULTIMATE WEAPON'
Added O. Burtch Drake, president of the Four A's, "An Ad Council campaign in the area of teen smoking . . . [is] worth looking at because, I think, that's the ultimate weapon that we have."
Anti-smoking ads haven't been seen much on TV in recent years, but were a staple during the '60s and got heavy play from 1969 to 1971, when a Federal Communications Commission decision forced broadcasters to air one anti-smoking spot for every four or five cigarette commercials.
After tobacco disappeared from the airwaves in 1971, anti-smoking commercials didn't get much airtime. Tobacco critics charged broadcasters were retaliating against them because of the lost revenue from cigarette ads.
In 1994, the Centers for Disease Control--the only public service or government group running a long-term national campaign--gave up producing anti-smoking spots, citing difficulty in getting them aired. CDC still distributes spots produced by several states that are aired locally, in some cases paying for media time.
The Ad Council's media muscle could help solve that problem.
"The Ad Council has an enormous amount of clout," said Susan Islam, director of media relations for the American Cancer Society. "They are known to produce wonderful materials, have members of the media on their board and have a great name . . . I think it's wonderful. It helps all of us."
Scott Ballin, VP-legislative counsel for the American Heart Association, was more cautious.
"The Ad Council has the potential for a little more clout and there is a positive aspect to it, but it's not a substitute for sound federal policy to better control the tobacco industry," he said.
Copyright January 1997, Crain Communications Inc.