Smokers-only contest draws criticism in Canada

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TORONTO--A new Canadian contest that only smokers can enter is drawing criticism from anti-smoking groups that claim that Imperial Tobacco is skirting advertising rules.

Imperial's du Maurier Concert Stage entertainment series, named for the du Maurier cigarette brand, launched in early February with a contest where entrants can win a trip to Canada's top ski resort to see a special rock concert.

"You must be over 19 and a smoker to enter," say newspaper ads promoting the contest.

"It's a concern that they're doing this," says Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society. "A message is being sent to potential smokers: 'If you're going to become a smoker, here's another potential benefit,' " he says.

New government restrictions on tobacco-related sponsorship advertising will be phased in later this year, and Mr. Cunningham suggests Imperial"is trying to exploit a loophole" before the rules begin to tighten.

Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada and the Canadian Cancer Society, among other groups, say they'll complain to the federal government about the contest, promoted through radio and newspaper creative in major centers.

Bates Canada, Toronto, created the contest ads.

Imperial Tobacco argues that the contest is completely legal and says the company can't satisfy anti-smoking groups no matter how it handles its marketing.

"I'm very surprised at this so-called controversy," says Imperial spokesman Michel Descoteaux in Montreal. "It's completely artificial."

Tobacco marketing is often criticized as targeting non-smokers, says Mr. Descoteaux, but now these latest complaints are over an effort thataddresses smokers only.

Contests that restrict entry based on age, geography and other factors arecommonplace, says Mr. Descoteaux, who's confident any challenge to Imperial's effort will fail.

Copyright February 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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