WHY WE MUST DEFEND TOBACCO ADS

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Rance Crain makes two points in his Oct. 30 column: 1) He does not find credible the argument that cigarette ads do not influence young people to smoke; and 2) he questions why the advertising associations should protect tobacco ads from government censorship.

With respect to the first point, there is credible evidence that young people make smoking decisions based on peer acceptance and additional factors other than advertising. In addition, a strong case can be made by relying on abundant evidence establishing that bans on advertising have not reduced underage smoking. Just last month Canada's supreme court overturned a tobacco ad ban by concluding, in part, that "there was not direct evidence of a scientific nature showing a causal link between advertising bans and decrease in tobacco consumption."

This finding-and the evidence supporting it from around the world-will be presented to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. It will be devastating to that agency's attempt to allow solely "text only" ads for tobacco products. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment requires the government to demonstrate that its regulations against truthful advertising must "directly advance" its goal-in this case-of reducing underage smoking. This it cannot do.

The mission of the advertising associations is to protect advertising, not products and services. If we do not stand up against the government in this case, how can we preserve the First Amendment right to truthfully advertise other legal products and services? As Advertising Age concluded in its Aug. 14 editorial, "there is no choice."

Wally Snyder

President-CEO, American Advertising Federation

Washington

It should come as no surprise that we believe your "Back to the ramparts" editorial comments (AA, Aug. 14) on cigarette advertising were much more on the mark than those expressed by Rance Crain in your Oct. 30 issue.

Without going into the specifics of this difficult debate, we agree with your earlier observations that there are "far more potent influences on underage smoking than advertising" and that the "unmarketing of smoking to teens could be far more effective than trying to dictate ad content."

Still, the truthful advertising of a legal product is being threatened and we will continue to be "product blind" when it comes to our efforts to resist any such initiative. That's why we have fought with equal intensity when government has attempted to impose bans or restrictions on the advertising of alcohol beverages, food products, toys, casinos, "green" products, prescription drugs, etc.

Certainly, we do not condone advertising that makes youth the target of advertising for adult products. Further, no representative of our association or our industry has ever contended that cigarette advertising "reaches only users of the product." That conclusion suggests a degree of precision in mass media advertising that defies even a rudimentary understanding of the practical limitations of such media.

We certainly don't want to see our industry rise or fall with the fortunes of any product. But contrary to Mr. Crain's assertion, we believe our industry incurs an infinitely greater risk if we attempt to modulate our resistance in accordance with a subjective evaluation of the product involved. If the product is legal, then both its producers and its legal users are entitled under our Constitution to the full benefit of truthful, non-deceptive advertising.

O. Burtch Drake

President-CEO, American Association

of Advertising Agencies

New York

I believe Rance Crain has completely misunderstood the way advertising works for the tobacco industry in his somewhat emotive call for the advertising industry to turn its back on cigarettes.

Tobacco advertising unquestionably persuades smokers to maintain loyalty or to switch brands, as the industry has always claimed, and indeed within any declining market there is every reason for the competing manufacturers to spend what they can afford, within the terms of any local restrictions, in order to remain in business.

But there really is no convincing evidence world-wide that such brand advertising does, or can, stimulate overall demand, and there are plenty of examples of other industry sectors where exactly the same is true.

Commercial freedom of choice is important, for us all, and Crain should be supporting the tobacco industry's stance and that of the advertising trade associations, not denigrating a clear principle.

Clive Turner

Tobacco Manufacturers' Association

London

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