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The time has come for the advertising industry-and nobody else- to draw up a voluntary code of self-regulation for the cigarette industry. And it should be written and administered by the National Advertising Review Council, which has served the industry so well over the last 25 years.

HMS Partners Chairman David Milenthal proposed that the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies draft such a code, but the Four A's executive board rejected the idea, saying it wasn't within the group's charter.

I agree, but that doesn't mean the task shouldn't be undertaken. The NARC is ideally suited for the job, and I have a hunch the council's brain trust could be prevailed upon to at least discuss the possibility. To get the review council involved is a much better solution that to allow the ad industry to be preempted by an outside organization, in this case the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids, which Mr. Milenthal said he is working with to "build industry support" for voluntary action.

The National Advertising Review Council is held in high esteem by federal legislators, and its formation and tough decisions have helped keep the Federal Trade Commission at bay.

FTC Chairman Bob Pitofsky said last year that when he joined the agency in 1970 national advertising was "the first priority." The FTC chairman at the time, Miles Kirkpatrick, "brought a lot of cases, and we experimented with a lot of remedies."

But Mr. Pitofsky added, "It's not the first priority now. There is more restraint in that sector of the economy and better self-regulation." He said the industry's self-regulating process "is the best self-regulating system I'm aware of. They are most willing to go out on a limb and crack down on their colleagues."

I find it remarkable that the most worthwhile things the ad industry does, such as the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and the National Advertising Review Council, are the least known and appreciated, by outsiders as well as people in the business.

Here's a quick primer on the ad industry's self-regulatory set-up; the National Advertising Review Council is a strategic alliance between the ad industry and the Council of Better Business Bureaus; its funding comes from the BBB and its policies and procedures come from the board of the NARC, composed of the heads of the advertising trade associations and the BBB.

The NARC is composed of three units-the National Advertising Division, the National Advertising Review Board and the Children's Advertising Review unit. The NAD and the children's unit investigate and substantiate ad claims. If the ad claims aren't resolved at that level, they go to the NARB, where a panel hears the cases and makes a judgment. Advertisers that don't abide by the NARB decisions are reported to the FTC.

In the NARC's 25 years, NAD has handled about 3,300 cases; 85 have been appealed to the NARB. Only three cases have gone on to the FTC.

Even though the ad review council primarily handles issues involving truth and accuracy, in the case of cigarette promotions it could design guidelines and monitor adherence through a special panel as it's done for children's advertising.

So the industry's got the procedures in place for cigarette ad guidance. Now all we need is the green light from the ad groups and the cigarette companies.

Piece of cake.

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