Anti-tobacco ad adopts animal-rights argument

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The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi is wielding a new weapon in the anti-tobacco fight: animal rights.

In a new 60-second spot that started in mid-February, the partnership charges tobacco companies experimented on animals to make sure tobacco's nicotine had an effect.

The commercial, which also features a "Beverly Hillbillies"-style theme song, pictures a friendly looking chimpanzee in a cage brought to a lab for experiments. Only well into the spot does it become apparent that the lab is run by tobacco companies. It ends with the tagline "Question it."

$12.5 MIL A YEAR

The latest effort from the partnership's agency, Maris, West & Baker in Jackson, Miss., is part of a two-year, $12.5 million a year pilot program that tobacco marketers agreed to fund as part of a lawsuit settlement with the state attorney general.

The Mississippi agreement was signed before tobacco companies strengthened language against vilifying the marketers, which was included in the settlement with most state attorneys general.

Since the campaign launched last March, all of the group's ads have targeted tobacco companies, but up to now most of them have been direct assaults on tobacco.

In a recent spot, set in the year 2070, a lawyer is called to a federal prison to talk to someone who has killed 11,000 people a day. As the lawyer approaches the prisoner in maximum security and hears his story, the lawyer asks how he could have done that. "You don't get it. He works for a tobacco company," says a guard.


Ad agency officials said they took the anti-industry approach because they believe that with a limited two-year campaign, that direction would have the biggest immediate effect in deterring youth smoking long-term.

"First, we demonstrated the nature of tobacco companies and their marketing and conspiracy to draw kids in," said Eric Hughes, VP-creative director at the shop. Then the message switched to charges that tobacco companies were marketing to kids "to replace their dying customers with other customers," said agency President-CEO David Kimball.

"Our core message was [the tobacco marketers] are trying to make you a lifelong customer . . . because [they] have to replace 11,000 customers a day."

The new spot, however, provides a surprise twist for an anti-smoking commercial.

Mr. Hughes said the chimp was used as a new approach to reach young people.

"We have shown it to kids and it has grabbed them in a way they hadn't been grabbed before," he said.

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