Reports due this week from Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders and the Journal of the American Medical Association will again focus the public's attention on the possible connection between teens and cigarette advertising.
But an exclusive Advertising Age/Gallup Organization poll demonstrates convincingly that in the public's mind, the connection has already been made.
According to the poll, 68% of Americans believe cigarette ads influence children and teens to smoke. A whopping 66% of the total-and 60% of smokers-believesome cigarette ads are specially designed to appeal to young people.
Two-thirds of Americans-including almost half of all smokers-want the U.S. government to impose greater restrictions on cigarette advertising. For 53%, that means a total ban. And 15%, while they don't support a total ban, said there should be greater restrictions.
Gallup conducted the telephone survey Feb. 16 and 17 among a random sample of 602 adults older than 18 in the continental U.S. The margin of error is 4 percentage points.
Interest in a total ad ban appears to have grown since 1991.
Gallup has asked a similar question for several years, finding a steady increase in support for a total cigarette ad ban from 1977 to 1988, when interest peaked at 55%. Such support was down to 46% in 1991 and back up to 53%.
The public's beliefs about cigarette advertising, a $400 million annual expense, may be reinforced by a host of media attention this week. In what promises to be a splashy event, Dr. Elders on Feb. 24 is to issue an annual report to Congress, her first since her appointment. The report is expected to conclude advertising plays a significant role in persuading young people to experiment with cigarettes.
An outspoken foe of smoking, Dr. Elders has said marketers intentionally target the underage group to replenish an ever-dwindling supply of consumers. She is expected to renew the call by predecessors C. Everett Koop and Antonia Novello for strict government controls on marketing practices.
Adding to marketers' headaches is an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, set for release Feb. 22.
Anti-tobacco forces hailed the study as the first real evidence linking advertising to increased consumption by underage smokers. A spokesman at the American Heart Association said the study shows a correlation between specific campaigns targeted to women, and increased cigarette consumption by women under the legal age.
The study is expected to base its conclusions on assessments of tobacco ad spending and underage smoking after the late 1960s, when tobacco marketers first launched separate campaigns targeting women-like Philip Morris USA's longstanding "You've come a long way, baby" effort for Virginia Slims.
Like the surgeon general's report, the JAMA article is also expected to recommend severe curbs on cigarette advertising, if not an outright ban.
With Congress and other federal regulators are ready to seriously consider such a ban, any evidence that establishes a definitive link could be a bombshell.
The Tobacco Institute questions whether such proof is obtainable. "The best evidence that there is no link comes from Europe, where there have been ad bans in effect and consumption still increases," said VP Walker Merryman. "That would seem to refute the argument that advertising causes consumption."
Market leader Philip Morris USA was ready last week to defend its position.
"There is no more evidence out there," said Karen Daragan, media programs manager. "If you look at government studies, the smoking incidence among kids is going down.
"Since when does the nation's chief doctor become expert on advertising?"
This week's two anti-tobacco reports also are likely to mean more public pressure on R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and its Joe Camel cartoon spokescharacter.
Anticipating this week's hue and cry, RJR today releases the results of a Roper study that reinforces its position: Although kids recognize Joe Camel, there's no proof that their recognition influences attitudes toward smoking (see story on this page).
The Federal Trade Commission's staff has recommended a complaint be issued against RJR for its Joe Camel campaign, but the commission has yet to act on the staff recommendation.
The focus on underage smoking also should mean renewed attention for the many anti-smoking measures floating through Congress. Rep. Mike Synar (D., Okla.), a longtime opponent of cigarette marketing, will renew his push for legislation that would shift jurisdiction over tobacco marketing from the FTC to the Food & Drug Administration, a shift that would effectively bring an end to tobacco marketing.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) is expected to try to attach to healthcare legislation a provision, defeated once before, to deny tobacco advertising expenditures as a business deduction.
Adrienne Ward Fawcett contributed to this story.