The current alleged split in the advertising community over support for new guidelines for tobacco advertising (and proposed Food & Drug Administration rules intended to diminish the appeal of such advertising to children and adolescents) is a non-issue, revolving as it does around policies that are more likely to maintain cigarettes as forbidden fruit than to reduce teenage smoking.
In an age of satellite TV, the Internet and other newly created outlets for advertising, it is impossible to restrict images, logos or brand names of consumer products to certain segments of the population. What the creators of the initiative are really saying is that they cannot compete effectively with the tobacco industry for the hearts and minds of potential customers. They prefer to regulate their opponent .*.*.
We have failed to immunize generations of adolescents against buying tobacco products because we have regarded smoking solely as a bad health behavior, as opposed to a silly looking, childish, over-priced consumer rip-off that's ripe for ridicule.
Ad agencies have had few incentives to become involved in this issue, in large measure because the bulk of public and private financial resources allocated to reducing tobacco consumption has been coveted by health agency bureaucrats who convene countless hand-wringing conferences [and] fund a considerable amount of irrelevant and unoriginal research.
The money that has gone for paid counter-advertising (as in cigarette tax-funded programs in California, Massachusetts and Arizona) has resulted in predictable propaganda against teenage smoking that is indistinguishable from the campaigns of Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, which preach to kids that smoking is an adult decision.
Rather than laying a guilt trip on the advertising community, groups like the initiative would do better to start off by soliciting put-up-or-shut-up monetary support from the wealthiest and most vocal of the morally outraged members of the private sector (such as the American Medical Association and the American Cancer Society) to attract the best and brightest in the advertising business to create innovative, paid counter-ads that can compete with and defeat the cleverest the tobacco industry has to offer.
Alan Blum, M.D.
Founder, Doctors Ought to Care
Baylor College of Medicine