Tobacco report reveals global retreat

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A secret report reveals that three of the world's biggest tobacco companies are planning a massive retreat in their marketing and advertising strategies around the globe.

The confidential report, a copy of which was obtained by Ad Age Global, shows that British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco and Philip Morris are collectively working on downscaling their advertising efforts in markets around the world-including Asia and Eastern Europe, where up to now they've enjoyed much greater advertising freedom.

The report, titled "International Tobacco Products Marketing Standards," reveals all three of the companies are considering agreeing on a new set of self-imposed restrictions and requirements for their advertising. A series of measures within the 10-page document spells out the scale of the tobacco giants' U-turn on advertising (see chart, Page 27), including major curbs on print ads, TV, outdoor, product placement and promotional events. The plan would impact almost every aspect of tobacco marketing around the world from creative ideas for ads to media where brand marketing appears.

"Tobacco products should be marketed in a reasonable manner and ... reasonable measures should be taken to ensure that the promotion and distribution of tobacco products is directed at adult smokers and not at youth, and consistent with the principle of informed adult choice," the document said.

Growing international pressure to reduce cigarette consumption has already led to restrictions-as in the U.S.-or bans on tobacco advertising in many other countries, forcing tobacco marketers to put the brakes on aggressive marketing.

This would be the first time the companies have come together to curb their activities and create common practices. Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco did not return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.

A spokesman for BAT, marketer of cigarette brands such as Lucky Strike and Pall Mall, said: "I can confirm we're in talks with other tobacco companies about the possibility of introducing a new set of global marketing standards and discussions are ongoing. Our policy, as always, is that young people should not smoke. We're committed to working with governments and, as appropriate, our competitors to ensure our product communications are directed only at the audience they are intended to reach-informed adult smokers."

According to the document, the three companies plan to incorporate these standards into their own internal codes, and "support the comprehensive incorporation of these standards into national laws" once they have been approved by antitrust authorities.

Many of the proposals are already being forced on the companies in more developed markets in North America, Western Europe, and North Asia, where governments take a tough stance on tobacco advertising. The case is far different in Southeast Asia, where tobacco advertising regulations in markets such as Indonesia and the Philippines are scant.

The plan will also be seen as a move to head off a campaign for a global ban on all advertising and promotion being spearheaded by the World Health Organization, which claims such a ban could be agreed to by 2003.

Contributing: Ann-Marie Crawford

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