By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Spotting a youth smoking-prevention ad from Philip Morris on the back of Harper’s magazine last month, OffBeat wondered if the tobacco giant was beginning to crack under the pressure of billion-dollar court settlements and public animosity.
In the middle of a meandering, full page of copy, the ad said that the cigarette maker has “dedicated significant resources — over $100 million last year — toward initiatives” to reduce underage smoking. In the next sentence, however, the ad went on to say, “We are spending another $100 million against these initiatives.”
Our first thought was typo, but a Philip Morris spokesman said no. “Identical,” he pronounced the apparently conflicting statements. When pressed, he amplified: “The second sentence says the same as the first, but perhaps not as clearly stated.”
Now, we’d have been happy to pass the whole thing off as bad copy-writing. But then we learned of a spate of other eyebrow-raising reports on ambiguities in Philip Morris’ much-publicized campaign to stop kids from smoking.
Earlier this year, distribution of Philip Morris anti-smoking book covers was halted in several states after students complained they contained subliminal messages promoting smoking. Philip Morris also invoked a special Big Tobacco “anti-vilification” clause to have two anti-smoking TV ads yanked from the air. Funding for the ads came from a $1.5 billion education fund set up as part of the $246 billion that’s being paid by the tobacco companies to settle health claims by the states.
The first ad had two teenagers entering the lobby of Philip Morris’ New York headquarters carrying an oversize briefcase marked “Lie Detector,” which they announced they wanted to deliver to the marketing department to clear up any confusion over whether smoking is addictive. In the second spot, a throng of teenagers pulled up in front of Philip Morris’ headquarters with an 18-wheeler and began to unload hundreds of long, white sacks marked “Body Bag.” One of the teenagers shouted at the building through a megaphone: “Do you know how many people tobacco kills every day?”
“We felt that they are not consistent with the focus and mission of the American Legacy Foundation,” the group that is running the education program, said Carolyn Levy, Philip Morris’ senior vice president for youth smoking prevention, about the censorship effort.
We don’t know what this all has to do with the confusing copy on the Harper’s ad. But we do know that Philip Morris, which controls 50 percent of the U.S. cigarette market, is well aware that in-your-face TV ads are the best way to stop teen smoking. And that namby-pamby print manifestoes have proven ineffective in stopping cigarette use by one of the company’s key target markets.
As Catherine Caylor Vose of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids put it on a recent National Public Radio program: “They could reform their marketing practices. They could agree to FDA regulation of tobacco. They could put — you know, instruct people to put cigarettes behind the counter. There are a whole range of things they could do. Instead, they’ve chosen to launch one ad campaign after another to try to make the American public believe they are a new and reformed company, while conducting business as usual.”