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AGENCY CHIEF PROPOSES CODE ON CIG ADS;FOUR A'S SAYS IT WON'T JOIN PUSH TO CREATE GUIDELINES FOR AGENCIES

By Published on .

An Ohio ad agency executive said last week he would draft a voluntary code on tobacco advertising and work to get the industry to accept it.

HMS Partners Chairman David Milenthal made his declaration shortly after the executive board of the American Association of Advertising Agencies rejected his call for the trade group to draft such a code.

FOUR A'S ISN'T INTERESTED

The Four A's responded that such an action isn't within the group's charter, emphasizing that its legal fight challenging the Clinton administration's proposed restrictions revolves around free-speech issues and has little to do with tobacco.

After that turndown, Mr. Milenthal said he will work with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, whose president is Porter/Novelli founder Bill Novelli, to develop both the code and a public relations campaign aimed at getting ad agencies to subscribe to it.

He is tentatively calling his effort "Stop advertising to kids now."

OPPOSES FDA PLAN

The Columbus, Ohio, adman disputes the legality of proposed Food & Drug Administration regulations, a point on which he and the Four A's are in full agreement.

"This issue is not about tobacco, from the Four A's perspective; it is about advertising of a legal product," said Hal Shoup, Four A's exec VP.

"We believe that the proposed regulations are in fact a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution [and] we will vigorously oppose any legislation or regulation by any government entity of legal products," he said.

Mr. Milenthal's proposals to the group were similar to those planned by the FDA, including not using cigarette brand names on clothing and other youth-oriented merchandising; not placing ads near schools or playgrounds where children are the primary participants; and avoiding using cartoon characters or recognizable children's symbols.

TARGETING CHILDREN

It also would call for a portion of agency revenues to support anti-smoking campaigns targeted to children.

"He supported all our efforts for free speech, but then said he wished we would go on record taking steps that frankly we felt were opposed to the first part of what he said," said Ralph Rydholm, Four A's vice chairman and CEO of Euro RSCG Tatham, Chicago, whose clients includeBrown & Williamson Tobacco Co.

"We felt it was telling clients what to do, and we felt we were not in position to give our clients guidelines. There is nothing wrong with a voluntary industry code, but we do not feel we should get in the business of providing guidelines for the [tobacco] industry's actions."

CODE CHANGE DEBATED

Four A's does have a creative code and Mr. Shoup said the board debated trying to modify it for tobacco but decided against it, feeling the existing code and federal laws adequately cover the subject.

The Four A's board did for the first time endorse greater restrictions on underage access to tobacco products.

Mr. Milenthal expressed no surprise and said his proposed code might set an example.

"If you develop a set of voluntary principles, a tremendous number of right-minded people will slowly or quickly evolve to do the right thing," he said. "I honestly believe that if you have enough people and enough support, an example will be set and we will have finally encouraged our trade associations to adopt those principles."

TRAVIS SUPPORTS RESTRICTIONS

Last week another ad agency executive spoke out against cigarette advertising. Daryl Travis, president of Arian, Lowe & Tra-vis, Chicago, went before a congressional briefing to declare support of the proposed FDA restrictions.

Mr. Travis, speaking at the briefing by some congressional tobacco critics in Washington, chastised his advertising colleagues for not supporting both the FDA restrictions and legislation to remove tobacco marketers' deductions for ad expenses.

"During the last month or so, I have felt extremely disappointed, ashamed and embarrassed while watching how some members of the advertising industry have reacted to the FDA's recent move to regulate tobacco marketing and how it reaches our children," he said.

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