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Ambitious National Antismoking Campaign Upsets Philip Morris
By Skip Wollenberg   Associated Press
NEW YORK — The biggest antismoking campaign ever is under way with teens helping shape its edgy messages and tobacco companies picking up the tab. But Philip Morris, the biggest cigarette maker, is fuming over what it has seen so far.

The ads, which are part of a $1.5 billion five-year campaign, portray tobacco as a killer and question the truthfulness of tobacco executives.

"We are very disappointed with the campaign," said Philip Morris spokesman Brendan McCormick, adding the maker of Marlboros was examining "all of our options."

The first two commercials in the campaign began running earlier this week and a Web site is in operation.

In one ad, two young people enter a tobacco company office building where they plan to deliver a lie detector to marketing executives to help them "tell the truth" about tobacco's addictiveness. They never get past the security guard and are escorted out.

The commercial was shot in Philip Morris' lobby in New York. But the company is never identified in the ad.

In another ad that parodies a soft drink commercial, three young people take a bungee jump off a bridge to retrieve cans of fictional Splode soda.

The first two jumpers each grab a can and take a drink as they are yanked back up to the bridge. But the third jumper's soda can explodes when he opens it and he vanishes in a burst of flame as his companions recoil.

These words then appear on the screen: "Only one product actually kills a third of the people who use it. Tobacco."

Both ads end with the campaign's logo — "Truth."

The Web site associated with the campaign, www.thetruth.com, lists the major tobacco companies and contrasts the industry's past statements about the health effects of smoking with what the site operators say the industry knew.

The tobacco companies are paying for the campaign as part of their $200 billion-plus settlement in 1998 of state claims for defraying the costs of treating sick smokers.

As part of the pact that removed a huge legal threat to the industry, the companies are paying $1.5 billion over five years to a fund "for public education and advertising regarding the addictiveness, health effects and social costs related to the use of tobacco products." The American Legacy Foundation was set up to run the program.

Cheryl Healton, chief executive of the foundation, said $185 million will be spent through June on advertising, the Internet site, community activities and other programs designed to discourage youngsters ages 12 to 17 from starting smoking.

"It is the largest countermarketing campaign in public health in this country," she said, adding that it is bigger than the federal government's massive antidrug effort. Officials there said they spent $155 million on antidrug advertising and communications last year.

It also outpaces the donated commercial time and ad space for the largest public service campaigns on crime prevention ($128 million in 1998) and drunken driving ($111 million), according to the Advertising Council.

Healton said the antismoking campaign was developed by nine advertising, PR and research agencies led by Arnold Communications of Boston. None handle tobacco accounts.

One hundred teens from across the country were brought in last fall to suggest approaches for the campaign and Healton said the teens are consulted regularly about how to proceed. She said the foundation felt teens know best what messages will be most effective with their peers.

"One of the biggest problems when grownups take over the ads is that they can have the opposite effect," she said.

But Philip Morris is unhappy with the campaign, citing the "Lie Detector" ad and the content of the Internet site.

McCormick said the settlement agreement prohibits using the education fund money for personal attacks on anyindividual or company.

"We think their campaign is inconsistent with the purpose of the American Legacy Foundation, which is to educate the public on tobacco-related health issues," he said.

But Bill Furmanski, spokesman for the foundation, said the admakers had "gone out of their way not to identify any individual or specific company" in the ads.

McCormick declined to say what options the company feels it has in the matter.

The Legacy Foundation hopes to run the ads on as many as 16 broadcast and cable networks. Healton said the broadcast networks CBS and ABC have not yet cleared them, but said she was confident of eventually getting approval.

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