Anti-Smoking Ads Pulled Over Taste

by Skip Wollenberg / AP Business Writer
Date: Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2000; 12:50 a.m. EST

NEW YORK -- The organization behind the biggest U.S. anti-smoking campaign is going to be watched by critics and fans to see if it has lost its nerve after pulling two of its first four commercials amid complaints the ads went too far.

The American Legacy Foundation withdrew the ads to defuse a potentially distracting debate over whether the ads amounted to an improper personal attack on tobacco companies or were an arresting way to educate teens about smoking's risks.

One of the pulled ads showed young people stacking "body bags" on the sidewalk outside a tobacco company building, while the other showed teens equipped with a lie detector trying to get into a tobacco company's offices to quiz sales executives about whether smoking was addictive.

The building was not specifically identified in either ad but the commercials were filmed inside and outside the Philip Morris Cos. headquarters in Manhattan.

Philip Morris, the world's biggest cigarette maker, and some state attorneys general cried foul and the CBS television network refused to run the two ads.

"It is obvious we pushed a number of buttons and we are going to keep pushing buttons," Cheryl Healton, president and chief executive of the foundation, said Tuesday.

But she said the foundation's board voted Monday to withdraw the two ads temporarily after "concerns were raised from a variety of sectors" and addressing the controversy threatened to divert her from her main mission of reducing youth smoking.

The ads are part of a $1.5 billion anti-smoking campaign being financed with proceeds from the industry's huge 1998 settlement with the states over claims for reimbursement for treating sick smokers.

The foundation was created to oversee the antismoking advertising and educational efforts, and last week it began running its first commercials developed by a team of agencies led by Arnold Communications of Boston.

The "Body Bag" ad ran on the USA network while "Lie Detector" ran on the cable channel Comedy Central.

"Hopefully this is a one-time incident in which the tobacco companies demonstrate that they haven't really changed by threatening the foundation whenever it produces hard- hitting ads that put the tobacco industry in a bad light," said tobacco critic Matthew Myers, head of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

He said the foundation's overall campaign is still hard- hitting but added the "critical point" will be to measure if the foundation continues in that direction.

The other two initial ads are parodies of soft drink and sneaker commercials, showing one of three product users being unexpectedly vaporized. The message: "Only one product actually kills a third of the people who use it. Tobacco." Other ads are expected to start running soon.

"It was not worth being distracted by one or two ads with others in the arsenal," Attorney General Christine Gregoire of Washington, who led the states in the negotiations with the tobacco industry and chairs the American Legacy Foundation, said Tuesday through a spokesman.

Philip Morris, the maker of the top-selling brand Marlboro, had said last week that it was disappointed with the "Lie Detector" commercial and the Web site created for the anti-smoking campaign and said it was weighing its options.

It noted that the state settlement agreement specified that the fund wouldn't be used for personal attacks on an individual or company, and said Tuesday it was pleased the two ads had been withdrawn.

Attorney General Michael F. Easley of North Carolina, who was among the state negotiators during the tobacco talks, said last week in a letter distributed to the attorneys general who signed the agreement there was little question that the ads "can be fairly viewed as personally attacking or vilifying the tobacco companies, something that all of us who sat around the negotiating table in New York agreed we would not do."

The CBS television network refused to run the "Lie Detector" and "Body Bag" ads because "we feel they crossed the line," CBS spokesman Dana McLintock said Tuesday.

The foundation remains in negotiations with CBS and other networks about taking its other ads, Healton said.

Philip Morris spokesman Brendan McCormick said the company continues to consider its options on the Web site, which is at

source: Bill Godshall Announcement List

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