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What's going on here? The advertising industry is intent on proving that advertising doesn't work, while its critics are trying just as hard to show it works too well.

Is it any wonder that advertising continues to decline as the marketing technique of choice in the eyes of top management?

The cigarette industry is squarely to blame for advertising's cockeyed position.

Cigarette makers argue their ads have virtually no effect on getting young people to smoke. Cigarette ads merely cause smokers to switch from one brand to another, they claim. And the advertising trade associations actively campaign to reinforce this farcical and damaging point of view.

Cigarette people maintain peer pressure is the culprit in getting kids to start smoking and that advertising has little effect.

That's like saying cosmetics ads have no effect on girls too young to put on lipstick. Don't brand preferences start forming early on?

A letter to the editor in our publication hoists us up by our own petard. "In your Aug. 14 editorial about cigarette advertising, you state: `No compelling evidence ties advertising to the increase in underage smoking.'

"In many other editorials, you have defended advertising's role in building brands.

"Either advertising works or it doesn't. Which is it?"

The writer is right. The ad business is hurting itself by carrying the cigarette people's luggage.

Corporate chieftains who control their companies' purse strings don't distinguish between cigarette advertising (which might or might not be a special case) and other advertising. They just note that ad trade groups back cigarette companies' claims that advertising is ineffective in reaching new customers.

Do their members know their trade associations are spending membership dues on trying to convince legislators that cigarette advertising reaches only users of the product? To everyone else, the ads fall on deaf ears. The unintentional message: Don't use advertising if you want to attract consumers who haven't yet tried your product.

I also wish the ad industry would let the ACLU protect the cigarette industry's First Amendment privileges. The cigarette companies, when they're good and ready, are going to "voluntarily" stop advertising anyway. So why should the advertising industry use up its good credit protecting an industry that is cynically using advertising to divert its critics?

I know I'm the guy who argued that Joe Camel didn't influence kids to take up the weed (and I still think they were more attracted to the character than to the concept of smoking).

But the front-page article in The Wall Street Journal the other week detailing how the cigarette companies add ammonia-based compounds to enhance the impact of the nicotine makes me realize that they will do anything to sell their product.

Eventually, their brazen excesses will lead to their demise, and I don't want to see the advertising industry go down with them.

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