TOBACCO INDUSTRY, FOES BRACE FOR NEW FDA REGS;MAY REIGNITE POLITICAL ISSUE; ANTI CIG GROUP HIRES GOP-LINKED AGENCY FOR ADS

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Final rules on tobacco marketing from the Food & Drug Administration are imminent, and could be released this week.

Tobacco critics and advertising supporters are preparing for a deluge of news conferences and publicity. The timing would come almost exactly a year after the original FDA announcement and just days before the Republican National Convention.

President Clinton has attacked Sen. Bob Dole's stand on tobacco, and an unveiling this week would put the tobacco issue back on the political agenda.

POSSIBLE DELAY

But at least one advertising trade group executive claimed some final policy differences at the FDA might delay the rules until after Labor Day.

While much of the preparation is aimed at public relations, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids last week hired Smith & Harroff, Washington, as ad agency for its less-than-$1 million account. Smith & Harroff is a Republican agency with one of its executives in charge of the GOP convention.

MORE NARROWLY TAILORED

The FDA rules are expected to be more narrowly tailored than those proposals announced a year ago. The original rules would, among other things, limit tobacco ads to text-only in magazines with more than 15% readership under age 18; ban tobacco outdoor boards within 1,000 feet of a school or a playground; ban giveaways of merchandise with tobacco insignias; and require tobacco companies to fund a $150 million a year anti-smoking campaign.

The FDA could choose to keep those sections and drop other, lesser rules that, for instance, ban direct mailings containing anything other than text to tobacco smokers or place restrictions on sports sponsorships.

Last May's Supreme Court decision in the 44 Liquormart case is fueling the expectation of rule cutbacks. In unanimously striking down Rhode Island's restrictions on liquor price advertising, a majority of the high court overturned a Puerto Rican case that had been a key in the FDA's original argument for ad limits.

"I do expect it to be modestly changed in view of the 44 Liquormart case," said George Gross, exec VP, Magazine Publishers of America. "The case makes the job of justifying constitutionality much more difficult."

Tobacco critics and advertising proponents expect a long fight on any of the rules.

JOE CAMEL TARGETED

Last week, 67 congressmen led by U.S. Rep. Tim Roemer (D., Ind.) petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to reconsider its 3-2 decision in 1994 that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s Joe Camel campaign didn't target children.

Although the FDA rules would ban that type of advertising, tobacco critics are hoping to hit Joe Camel first because of the expectations of court challenges.

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