NEWS ANALYSIS -- Tobacco Deal's Youth Campaign -- Just Say Scam
Merry Christmas, kids.
Starting today, you will receive, absolutely free, $100 million worth
of ads and education from the Marlboro Man, telling you NOT to buy his
Marlboro maker Philip Morris Cos. Inc., the world's largest cigarette
producer, is starting the youth campaign tied to the $206 billion deal
the tobacco industry just cut with 46 states to settle claims over the
cost of smoking-related illness.
Television, radio and print advertisements will tell kids "It's
not smart to smoke, and 'good for you' for not doing that," said Carolyn
Levy, who is Senior Vice President of Youth Smoking Prevention at Philip
Morris' New York headquarters.
"This is important to our employees, to our customers, and frankly,
to our business," said Levy.
But critics contend that it's an awfully good example of exactly what
is wrong with the 46-state deal that Levy's company and a handful of state
prosecutors are shoving down America's throat.
At best, they say, the $100 million annual commitment is earnest money,
a pledge to be a kinder, gentler cigarette company. At worst, it's a clever
way to get the name Philip Morris back on the tube -- a little brand-name
recognition for when kids grow old enough (nudge, nudge) to smoke.
Barring the unlikely intervention of the courts, many health legal experts
are convinced that state prosecutors are setting tobacco control policy
in the United States for the next quarter century on the tobacco industry's
"It's actually amazing how complete their victory was," University
of California at San Francisco cardiology professor Stanton Glantz said.
"They didn't give in on anything. I think this is going to go down as
one of the great scam jobs in history."
The Philip Morris campaign is a model for the $1.45 billion "Public
Education Fund" that cigarette makers will be required to create under
terms of the lawsuit settlement. State prosecutors, perhaps a bit sheepish
about signing for half the money Minnesota won on its own, insisted that
the industry start a "Just Say No" campaign.
The attorneys general should not have worried about the money. California
voted a 50-cents-a- pack tax on cigarettes without any help from state
lawyers. The problem with the $206 billion settlement is that it shortchanges
the real changes in tobacco industry practices that could have saved lives.
The foundation will pay for the advertisements, brochures and fliers.
It will have an independent board of directors, and it must have at least
one public health expert at the table. Forbidden, however, are any advertisements
that "attack" companies or executives.
Curiously, when UCSF studied reactions of teenagers to anti-smoking
advertisements, the ads deemed least effective were those that stressed
the health consequences of smoking. Most effective were those that attacked
Robert Kline, an attorney with the Boston-based Tobacco Control Resources
Center, describes the advertising restrictions as a mirage. "Any restriction
on the industry achieved in one paragraph is undercut in a subsequent paragraph,"
Also unacceptable under the deal: any suggestion to kids that they should
be ashamed if Mom or Dad makes a living selling an addictive drug that
kills 400,000 Americans every year.
Ellen Merlo, spokeswoman for Philip Morris, said "There is room for
everyone committed to reducing youth smoking to play a role."
Clearly, there are sincere and decent people working for the tobacco
industry who believe they can do a better job. They may honestly believe
it is wrong to sell cigarettes to children and that they can put a stop
Why then, the curious legalisms found throughout the 146-page consent
decree? Tobacco companies are now and forever forbidden to run marketing
campaigns that "primarily" focus on children.
Baseball caps, T-shirts and gym bags festooned with cigarette logos
are verboten, unless they are souvenirs sold at events sponsored by a cigarette
Tobacco companies are forbidden from selling cigarettes in packs of
fewer than 20 -- a tactic used in the past to help kids who couldn't afford
smokes buy them in affordable quantities. Why then, a clause that makes
the ban expire Dec. 31, 2001? Why does the industry agree to pull down
its billboards, but not the 3-by-5 posters that plaster the walls of cigarette
Why is Philip Morris so eager to warn kids that it's not cool for them
to smoke, but it sure is for grown-ups. Lost in the logic of the tobacco-free
kids movement is that cigarettes do not kill children. They kill grown-ups
-- by the cartload.
Meanwhile, freed of the most serious legal challenge in this century,
the tobacco industry will be able to focus its energies where the real
money is these days: selling the products to men, women and children overseas.
John R. Garrison, chief executive of the American Lung Association,
said succinctly, "The deal concedes far too much to Big Tobacco and provides
far too little to protect public health."
- Sabin Russell, Chronicle Staff Writer
- Monday, December 7, 1998
- ©1998 San Francisco Chronicle Page A8