VIEWPOINT;TOBACCO PACT MIGHT WORK;PRINT POWER

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Is a new negotiated truce to the current tobacco ad war in sight? Or is it cynical maneuvering? Or both? For our part, we hope the offer put on the table by Philip Morris Cos. and U.S. Tobacco Co., the No. 1 seller of smokeless tobacco, produces results.

Legislation voluntarily agreed to by the industry is its own form of self-regulation, and not necessarily a censorship nightmare. Past legislation removed tobacco commercials from TV and radio, and created the rotating health warnings that appear in ads.

No matter what the First Amendment says, few voters today muster much sympathy for an industry that fights efforts to shield youngsters from tobacco ads. Nor do they buy the argument that Joe Camel has no influence with youngsters.

PM and U.S. Tobacco respond to some of these concerns. They would accept federal legislation that would: curb outdoor tobacco ads near playgrounds and schools; ban them from mass transit; halt print ads in publications with 15% of subscribers under 18; place some limits on stadium signage and event sponsorship (though big sponsorships of motor sports and rodeos could continue); and strip brand name logos from premium items. They do not, however, propose giving the government the power to bar lifestyle imagery from ads.

In return, they ask something substantial: no tobacco regulation by the Food & Drug Administration.

Anti-smoking activists want more, of course, and President Clinton has already urged the industry to sweeten the pot. The Supreme Court, meanwhile, in a victory this month for advertisers and a defeat for government regulators, strongly reaffirmed the First Amendment right to truthfully advertise even "vice" products.

In this dispute, the two sides can battle in Congress and the courts over who is right, or find a middle ground of acceptable, responsible policy that gets something done-now. For the tobacco business, and the ad business, that's the most promising course for now.

Last week's presentation of the $100,000 MPA Kelly award-to Goodby Silverstein & Partners for its Porsche Cars North America work-was a black-tie celebration of the power of a medium, print, that sometimes frets about being overshadowed in this age of electronic information and entertainment. The ceremony also serves as a reminder to large, New York-based agencies-some of which grumble about seeing the same cast of shops from Minneapolis, Portland, Ore. and San Francisco show up on the list of Kelly finalists year after year-that great print work is about more than grabbing a frame from a TV ad.

One reason the awards are dominated by smaller shops is, of course, that many of them work with clients who can't afford TV's big production budgets. Necessity, in this case, is the mother of creativity. But agencies like Fallon McElligott and Carmichael Lynch, while now doing as much TV work as print, haven't forgotten the intimate medium that got them where they are today.

The only New York agency finalist this year, Cliff Freeman & Partners, is known for producing some of the sharpest spots on TV and now is making a conscious effort to raise its print work to the same level. Rather than complaining about being passed over in favor of the usual suspects, big agencies in New York and elsewhere should stop treating print as TV's poor relation and set out to do great work in what remains a great medium.

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