Big Tobacco's broken vows

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During the Super Bowl, the American Legacy Foundation launched two powerful new ads designed to remind the American public that despite the industry's claim of change, tobacco products remain as deadly and addictive as they have always been. The ads were created and paid for by Legacy, funder of the largest public health ad campaign designed to keep young people away from tobacco. Two years ago, as part of the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) signed between the tobacco companies and the state attorneys general, the companies promised they would stop marketing and promoting cigarettes to children. In short, they promised to stop trying to hook our kids on their deadly products.

But have they? In fact, the tobacco industry has spent tens of millions of dollars portraying itself to the public as a concerned corporate citizen, all the while selling the same deadly and addictive product. Every day, 3,000 kids become regular smokers; one-third will die prematurely from tobacco-related disease. Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in this country.

Our ads counter the tobacco industry's claims and highlight the devastating health effects of tobacco. One ad, "Electrolarynx," questions tobacco companies' attempts to take credit for the MSA and portray themselves as having significantly changed their practices. Through the voice of a former smoker speaking through an "electrolayrnx" device, the ad reminds viewers that what hasn't changed is the tobacco industry's deadly and addictive product-and the consequences of using it.

The second ad, "46 Years Old," shows Rick Stoddard, an average American, speaking painfully about how his wife, Marie, died of lung cancer at the age of 46. Family photos of the couple and their young son flash intermittently as the ad demonstrates that cigarettes are a deadly product which take its toll not only on the smoker but on the whole family.

In addition to the TV advertisements, a full-page print ad, titled "Kills One-Third," is running in five national newspapers. The ad is a multiple-choice quiz that puts readers in the shoes of a company executive facing a decision because the company's product kills one-third of its customers. The answer to the quiz reveals how the tobacco companies address the issue.

The new Legacy ads come on the heels of a yearlong, multimillion-dollar campaign aimed directly at young people. The award-winning, national truth campaign ads are designed to curb youth tobacco use.

Legacy's new ads are our first attempt among adults to counter the tobacco industry's $100 million, slick, emotion-grabbing PR efforts and show that tobacco companies haven't changed. Their slick messages promoting deadly products are still reaching kids.

Here are just a few of the tactics employed by the tobacco industry since it signed the MSA:

* Forty-three thousand schools received free book covers from Philip Morris Cos. All 13 million of them bear an uncanny resemblance to a colorful cigarette pack.

* Studies by Legacy have shown that since the MSA, tobacco advertising in magazines with high youth readership has increased dramatically. In fact, tobacco companies redirected their ad budgets following the MSA. The result was to increase their exposure in magazines with high youth readership. The studies showed tobacco ads in magazines with high youth readership increased by a third from 1998 (prior to the MSA) to 1999 (after the MSA). (Recently, Philip Morris suspended such ads, but three other major companies continue to advertise in magazines with 15% or more youth readership.)

* A University of Chicago study found tobacco companies have significantly increased retail store advertising and promotions, substantially undermining the MSA's efforts to reduce kids' exposure to messages encouraging them to smoke. Four-fifths of retail stores had interior cigarette ads; more than half had tobacco promotions.

* The tobacco companies went to court to challenge limitations imposed by state law. For example, they claim the Massachusetts law prohibiting tobacco ads within 1,000 feet of an elementary or secondary school or public playground violates free-speech protections. Also as part of that lawsuit, now before the U.S. Supreme Court, they fought restrictions on placing cigarette promotions below 5 feet-or at levels where kids can see them.

The list could continue, but you get the picture. Enough is enough. It's time to blow the whistle. Tobacco companies promised they would change. But then it's right back to the same old, same old, figuring out as many different and creative ways to keep their products before the eyes of millions of children in as many different venues as they can manage.

That's why we launched our aggressive campaign to set the record straight with paid ads during the Super Bowl and beyond with messages that make it clear that Big Tobacco's corporate "feel good" campaign is nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

Two parts of the MSA were designed to help kids. One was the creation of a national media campaign designed to keep kids from starting to smoke. But the second part was an agreement by tobacco companies to stop promoting their products to kids. We're meeting our end of the obligation. When will the tobacco companies meet theirs?

Ms. Healton is president-CEO, American Legacy Foundation, Washington, a national, independent public health foundation created by the November 1998 Master Settlement Agreement. The new ad campaign is from Arnold Worldwide, Boston.

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