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NEW ORLEANS-Trying to mobilize the troops, Philip Morris USA President James Morgan called on the Outdoor Advertising Association of America conference to save the medium's second largest ad category.

"This is a threat to both our businesses," Mr. Morgan said. "It would appear that the [Food & Drug Administration] is not coming after only us, but you too."

Though down from a 1985 peak of $211 million in outdoor spending, tobacco marketers spent $122 million on outdoor in 1994, according to the OAAA, up 20.7% from 1993 and second only to entertainment. Tobacco spending totaled $66.6 million-a close second to entertainment's $68.3 million-for the first half of this year, up 51% from the same time in 1994.

But those growing revenues could go up in smoke if the FDA and President Clinton are successful with their plan to limit tobacco advertising to so-called "tombstone" ads, requiring b&w text on all outdoor boards and a complete ban of those within 1,000 feet of schools.

Industry members call it a de facto ban, since advertisers aren't likely to bother under such restrictions.

"If we're faced with those rules, it will require us to evaluate the effectiveness of the medium-I'm afraid I already know the answer," said Mr. Morgan in his address to a record 900 attendees at the meeting.

"It's not a threat; it's a reality," said Tom Martin, president of Martin Media. "I really believe this whole tobacco issue is coming to a head now."

The outdoor community, while not up in arms-conventioneers seemed confident that with or without tobacco their business will not only survive but prosper-has been mounting letter writing campaigns in a battle against local efforts to curtail tobacco advertising. And the OAAA, acting along with five other ad associations as the Freedom to Advertise Coalition, is suing the FDA.

Efforts to snuff tobacco ads in Baltimore and Cincinnati are still pending as a new fire starts in San Francisco. On Oct. 30, the Board of Supervisors introduced an ordinance to prohibit tobacco ads within 1,500 feet of parks, recreation centers, churches, schools and other sites. Gannett Outdoor Group and Eller Media Co. plan to testify against the proposal during a public hearing, expected within the next four weeks.

The companies plan to emphasize the effect on revenues as well as explain that the industry has imposed voluntary restrictions on cigarette and alcohol advertising within 500 feet of schools and churches, in place since 1990.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld laws banning tobacco and alcohol ads in most areas of Baltimore. Penn Advertising, which sued the city, asked the appellate court to reconsider its ruling and may appeal.

A total outdoor tobacco ban in Cincinnati was challenged by Norton Outdoor Advertising and Martin Media, but they quietly withdrew the case in July. Norton President Tom Norton said the case may be reopened before next June.

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