Foundation yanks two controversial anti-smoking ads

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The same week that Philip Morris USA unveiled a new issue-driven print campaign spotlighting its anti-smoking efforts and other tobacco-related themes, the American Legacy Foundation announced it was pulling its controversial anti-tobacco TV spots.

The foundation's decision came within hours of a Feb. 14 meeting at which tobacco company attorneys said the spots violated a pact tobacco makers signed with attorneys general to give the foundation $300 million a year.

Neither tobacco companies nor foundation officials would comment last week about the meeting's substance.

Philip Morris, in particular, had suggested the "Truth" campaign from Arnold Communications, Boston, and Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami, could imperil funding for the foundation (AA, Feb. 14).


The ads in question featured youths confronting tobacco companies. In one, a woman walks into Philip Morris' New York headquarters (the spot said "an unidentified tobacco company") and tries to present the company with a lie detector to get at the truth about nicotine addiction. Another spot showed body bags being unloaded outside Philip Morris' offices.

Similar spots had aired in a Florida campaign from Crispin that came out of that state's settlement with tobacco companies. After the Florida campaign aired, tobacco companies drew up the national agreement to bar "vilification" in anti-smoking ads.

Tobacco companies and North Carolina Attorney General Michael Easley complained that the "Truth" spots were in defiance of the spirit and even the letter of that agreement.

"I have a grave concern that elements of the foundation's `The Truth Campaign' violate the terms [of the agreement] and will be treated by the industry as a breach of our agreement," Mr. Easley wrote Washington State Attorney General Christine Gregoire, who heads the foundation board. Foundation officials last week again denied that the ads violated the agreement.


According to a spokesman for Ms. Gregoire, "The controversy was causing a major distraction and keeping the foundation from focusing on its goal."

Foundation officials also contended the withdrawal of the two spots would not have much effect on the campaign, with other spots planned that will feature kids talking about tobacco.

The foundation declined to say how much had been spent producing the pulled ads.

Another set of ads from the foundation -- which the Big 3 networks had originally refused to clear (AA, Feb. 7) -- have begun airing on broadcast and cable networks, including NBC.

These spots feature common consumer products, such as soda or athletic footwear, in which something goes fatally wrong. All four use the theme "There is only one product that actually kills a third of the people who use it. Tobacco."

Ironically, Philip Morris' new print effort broke two days after the foundation's decision to pull its spots. Though Philip Morris declined to disclose spending, the campaign from Y&R Advertising, New York, is apparently the company's biggest use of newspapers for an image campaign in years.

Headlined "Change & Tobacco," the first ad -- which broke Feb. 16 in The Washington Post -- defends the company's involvement in producing anti-tobacco ads.


"We believe we have a role to play as society addresses tobacco-related issues and we'd like to let you know what our company is doing," reads the ad copy.

"It's a long-term campaign to establish a dialogue with the American people. We want to be more open and to help educate," said Ellen Merlo, Philip Morris' VP-corporate affairs.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids last week accused the Philip Morris campaign of being misleading and ran its own Washington Post ad headlined "Big tobacco's latest doubletalk." Greer Margolis Mitchell Burns & Associates, Washington, handles the anti-tobacco group.

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