Editorial: Time to support anti-tobacco ads

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With funding for anti-smoking marketing campaigns under pressure around the country, more support for them should come from what once would have seemed an unlikely quarter: the advertising and marketing services industries and individual corporate marketers.

State governments are the primary funders for these anti-smoking efforts. They raise billions in cigarette taxes every year ($11.6 billion is forecast for fiscal 2003) and receive billions more yearly from the big tobacco companies ($8.7 billion this year) under terms of the industry's 1998 liability settlement with the states. And it's in the states where the ad industry over the years has built a priceless grass-roots lobbying network.

In better times, states such as California and Massachusetts financed aggressive, often confrontational tobacco-education efforts. But the dollars are drying up there, and elsewhere, as ad agencies that handle some of the state campaigns grimly reported in these pages last week.

Much energy from top levels of the ad business has been invested in the battle against illegal drugs through the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and the federal government. Less attention goes to communications efforts aimed at tobacco use, perhaps reflecting past discomfort with "attacking" a product legally marketed by major corporations that had long been pillars of the advertising business.

Well, times have changed. Altria Group's Philip Morris USA now spends millions on advertising to discourage youth smoking. While tobacco marketers may not like some of the tenor and tactics, anti-smoking campaigns are here to stay and they can pay off in lower health-care costs for governments and business and better lives for many Americans. But they need to be sold to state legislators when dollars are tight, and the people and organizations that know best what smart marketing can accomplish should be their advocates.

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