Cigarette makers frankly spell out smoking danger

By Published on .

Most Popular

Want to quit smoking? There's a helpful site with links to QuitNet and Surgeon General reports, and a special link to a smoking and cancer mortality table that may scare the hell out of you. The site is from the people of Philip Morris.

Better yet, go to the far slicker Web site, which offers similar links, a nifty assortment of death statistics and a chatty guide to quitting smoking.

What's going on here?

Tobacco makers are laboring to buy respect--and stave off killer lawsuits and more legislation. They're telling their stories on the Net.

Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest cigarette marketer, opened its Web site in October as a complement to a corporate campaign that beaten-down Philip Morris Cos. launched to boost its image (and presumably its stock price). PM worked on site development with Giant Step, Chicago, an interactive sister shop of Marlboro ad agency Leo Burnett USA.

The tobacco division is promoting in print ads that run as part of a "Tobacco Today" public service campaign. The company is adding the URL to all ads as well as its cigarette packages.

Traffic in April to Philip Morris, Brown & Williamson and more mundane sites for rivals R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard was too small to be reported by Nielsen/NetRatings. You decide how much tobacco companies really want smokers to visit.

PM's text-laden site is deadly serious. A disclaimer says the site is meant to provide "general information" and "is not operated for advertising or marketing purposes."

B&W's site, in contrast, is an inviting place built around the navigational metaphor of a town square. Visitors may click on the Courthouse to see a compendium of tobacco litigation. They may go to the newsstand to see tobacco-related headlines, positive and negative, from around the world. Or they may click on the Liberty building to check out Hot Topics, such as health issues, quitting smoking and an attack on "The Insider," a film by Walt Disney Co.'s Touchstone Pictures about a former B&W employee who tells all.

B&W's site addresses tough issues, including the question, "Why don't we just stop making cigarettes?" ("We believe that there is no conflict between being in the business of manufacturing cigarettes and being a responsible and ethical business enterprise.")

While PM's site is a somber domain, the blue sky and smiling faces make B&W's seem like the happiest place on earth. B&W people may contribute to the 400,000 Americans who die annually from smoking, but at least they're smiling. B&W's site design, elegant navigation and straight-shooting prose is cool. (Make that Kool.)

It's remarkable how candid the sites are on dangers of smoking. "There is an overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other serious diseases in smokers," the PM site said. "Smokers are far more likely to develop serious diseases, like lung cancer, than non-smokers. There is no 'safe' cigarette.' "

Cigarette companies have long pointed to the mandated Surgeon General's warnings on cigarette packs as a defense in litigation. Maybe there's not a lot of downside for PM in reciting the dangers of smoking.

More stunning are the efforts PM and B&W have made to help people quit. "Cigarette smoking is addictive, as that term is most commonly used today," PM's site explains. "It can be very difficult to quit smoking, but this should not deter smokers who want to quit from trying to do so."

The site offers a link to QuitNet, a stop-smoking portal developed by Boston University, and to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's How to Quit page. B&W, meanwhile, discusses stop-smoking aids such as Glaxo Wellcome's Zyban plus links to, the American Lung Association and American Cancer Society. The sites deliver. In the twilight of the tobacco industry, PM and B&W belatedly are doing more than just blowing smoke.

Interactive Editor Bradley Johnson reported on tobacco for five years in the 1980s.

Copyright June 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

In this article: