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VIEWPOINT;WRONG FIX FOR TEEN SMOKING;A STEP TOO FAR

Published on .

President Clinton's war on tobacco product marketing makes good election-year politics but is so overwhelmingly punitive we doubt it will survive court review intact. So the White House has wisely invited tobacco companies to resume bargaining over new "voluntary" restrictions to shield young people from tobacco marketing and shortcut a long and very uncertain court fight.

The best weapon against teen smoking, however, is the one that seems to be ignored in the rush to muzzle tobacco ads. That is, more anti-smoking advertising.

Until Election Day arrives, tobacco marketers are going to take a pounding and our sympathy has limits. As the adage says, they shall reap what they sow. And tobacco executives have not helped their cause, or the ad industry groups that have defended them. They are paying the price for sticking with creative approaches, such as R.J. Reynolds Tobacco's Joe Camel, that fueled charges tobacco marketing "targets" underage youths. And they lost credibility by piously denying nicotine is habit-forming.

The result is a draconian set of rules crafted by a federal agency, the Food & Drug Administration, that has a long tradition of suspicion, if not downright hostility, to advertising and what it does.

Once the campaign is over, however, there will be time to point out how prohibitionist and constitutionally suspect the anti-advertising portions of the FDA plan are. It is so sweeping we can't help but believe the FDA is asking for everything in hopes the courts or Congress will in the end leave it at least some powers over tobacco marketing.

What needs to be heard as this debate over text-only ads and sponsorship bans continues is a strong voice arguing that more advertising, not less, is the best way to discourage youths from smoking. States like California and Massachusetts have shown that such campaigns, often funded from state cigarette taxes, can have real impact-and not compromise sensitive free speech rights. White House bargaining might well produce useful standards to avoid future Joe Camel controversies. But it is more speech-more advertising-about the perils of smoking that is clearly the best remedy.

We wince a little when Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami joins the list of sponsored sports palaces, to be known as Pro Player Park in honor of the Fruit of the Loom unit that markets licensed NFL products. And we cringe a bit at the news that ESPN will reprise higlights of sports events as "No Fear Moments," thanks to big bucks from No Fear sports apparel.

But we really choke at the report that a Chicago TV station ran a commercial message as a crawl across the bottom of the screen during a regular series program.

The line against encroaching commercialism has been badly stretched, but the Chicago station surely crossed it. It's a Fox-owned outlet and, happily, Fox Broadcasting management disowned the stunt and said it's against company policy, as have the other major networks.

Aggressive advertisers and their agencies are forever looking for innovative ways to present their messages in the growing media clutter. But to consumers, such "innovations" are perceived as a violation.

We suspect that while there is a high expectation of brand recognition for the retailer involved, Marshall Field's, the greater likelihood is one of resentment.

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