Tobacco industry uses TV ads to state its case

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The major tobacco marketers are striking back at critics with an ad campaign--including the first tobacco TV spots bought by cigarette companies in decades--that lays out Big Tobacco's views on the current regulatory debate.

"I think it is fair to say that the tobacco industry does not have a lot of credibility on certain issues," said Steven C. Parrish, senior VP-corporate affairs, Philip Morris Cos., in explaining the print, radio and TV campaign from Bozell/Eskew, Washington and Malibu, Calif., that broke in newspapers March 11.

Broadcast ads broke nationally on radio the next day, the same day TV spots began airing in major markets.

UNGLAMOROUS LOOK

Under development since late last year, the ads use a purposely unglamorous look, with text--even in the TV commercials--explaining the settlement the tobacco companies reached with state attorneys general last year and the industry's views on recent congressional proposals that would change the agreement when it's written into law.

Some congressional officials said the industry would spend $20 million or more on the effort.

Mr. Parrish said no final spending figure had been decided and that spending may depend on developments. He declined to disclose the initial budget.

The executive indicated the first ad--about healthcare liability issues--would be followed by ads explaining the other parts of the original settlement.

`TIME TO ADVERTISE'

"We felt ... as the proposed resolution gets a lot more attention in Congress, it was an appropriate time to advertise," said Mr. Parrish. "We felt there was a lot of confusion about what is and is not in the proposal.

"Our thinking is that with this type of campaign--very straightforward, educational--the identity of the messenger shouldn't be that much of an issue."

Mr. Parrish, who was speaking for the four tobacco makers represented in the ads--Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co., R.J. Nabisco Holding Corp., Philip Morris Cos. and Loews Corp.--said the ads are aimed at the general public.

"The sole purpose of these ads is to inform people," he said. "One of the things we think is important for everyone to understand is it is not just civil liability, or advertising, but the comprehensive nature of the agreement."

ADS MAY BE EFFECTIVE

Gary Black, a tobacco analyst for Sanford Bernstein & Co., said the ads may have some effect.

"The odds of a deal are very high, but a big problem is that there is a lot of misinformation. [The tobacco industry's] enemy is the misinformation campaign that zealots are spreading in an effort to quash the deal," he said. "The moderates in Congress, the more they learn about the deal the more they find it appealing."

The ads broke the same week as other developments, including:

  • Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa), with Sen. John Chafee (R., R.I.) and Sen. Bob Graham (D., Fla.), proposed the first bipartisan bill and suggested a hike in the annual funding for anti-smoking ads to $750 million, a 50% jump above the amount state attorneys general won.

  • Sen. Jim Jeffords (R., Vt.), chairman of the Labor Committee, which oversees the Food & Drug Administration, told Advertising Age that though his proposed tobacco legislation outlining the FDA's role includes tobacco ad curbs, his main concern is the FDA's role and not ad restrictions. The committee delayed a vote on tobacco issues until March 18.

    Copyright March 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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