The War on Smoking: Anti-smoking Campaigns

The war on smoking has existed for decades. With theadvent of more tenacious laws prohibiting smoking in publiclocations, and most recently Minnesota’s historic tobaccosettlement, many actions against “Big Tobacco” have become moresuccessful. Anti-smoking campaigns have become moreconfrontational, directly targeting tobacco companies in aneffort to expose its manipulative and illegal marketing tactics.

On the surface, last November’s $206 billion settlementagreement between the tobacco companies and 46 states looks likea serious blow for Big Tobacco. In addition to the money, itcontains some important concessions: a ban on outdooradvertising, limits on sports sponsorships and merchandising, nomore “product placement” in movies, and they have to close theTobacco Institute and other instruments. And Joe Camel – alongwith all other cartoon characters – is gone for good. Yet this did not hurt the tobacco industry’s ability tosell cigarettes. On Nov. 20, the day the attorneys generalannounced the settlement, the stock of the leading tobaccocompanies soared. After all, the Big Four tobacco makers willpay only 1 percent of the damages (at most) directly; the restwill be passed on to smokers through higher prices. Since manystates are already figuring the settlement money into theirbudgets, this puts them in the odd position of depending on thecontinued health of the tobacco industry for their roads,Punishing the industry, in other words, doesn’tnecessarily address the root of the problem – reducing demandfor cigarettes. And that won’t go down until we all face thefact that smoking is once again cool. In the 1980s, scarcely anyteenagers smoked. However, according to the Centers for DiseaseControl and Prevention, teen smoking rose 73 percent from 1988As long as movie stars like John Travolta and Uma Thurmanflirt gorgeously through a haze of cigarette smoke, as long asit drifts through all the right nightclubs and bars andhang-outs – not to mention the magazines and posters andbillboards – teenagers will find ways to smoke, no matter howmany public service announcements or laws are written to stopthem. Most of these kids know that smoking fills their lungswith toxins like arsenic, cyanide, and formaldehyde. They’lleven recite the statistics to you: Smoking kills over 1,000people a day in this country alone, and is far deadlier, interms of mortality rates, than any hard drug. And then they’llThe only way to get any leverage with teenagers is toreturn fire with fire, taking on the various influences thatmake smoking seem attractive. We need, in other words, to findnew ways to make smoking look ridiculous. John F. Banzhaf III had no particular animosity toward thecigarette companies when he sat down in his Bronx home onThanksgiving Day 1966 to watch a football game with his father.

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He was struck by a cigarette commercial that seemed to glamorizea habit that both his parents practiced. While at ColumbiaUniversity School of Law, Banzhaf had studied the ”fairnessdoctrine,” a Federal Communications Commission policy thatrequired broadcasters to offer free air time to opposing viewson controversial public matters. He wondered whether thedoctrine could be applied to cigarette advertising. It had neverbeen applied to commercials before, but the FCC ruled inBanzhaf’s favor. By 1967 broadcasters were airing oneanti-smoking ad for every four cigarette ads, on prime-timeBleary-eyed football fans who managed to hang on beyondthe last bowl games witnessed history 90 seconds before midnighton New Year’s Day 1971 when four Marlboro cowboys galloped intothe TV sunset. From then on, cigarette companies would neveragain be allowed to advertise their wares on television orBetween the years of 1967, when the anti-smoking ads firstaired on television, and ending in 1970, when they went off, percapita cigarette consumption dropped four years in a row -something that had not happened since the turn of the century. Naturally, there were other reasons for this decline, butresearchers tend to agree that the ads were a powerful factor.

They also permeated the culture in ways that can’t bequantified, making people less likely to associate cigaretteswith glamour. In Hollywood movies, where smoking had beenseemingly mandatory for decades, cigarettes disappeared like thehats from mens’ heads. Only 29 percent of movie characterssmoked in the 1970s- less than half as many as before or since. Most of the ads were produced by the American CancerSociety and the American Lung Association, and they were so goodthat the tobacco industry began to panic. They were clever too, however cigarettes didn’t reallydisappear from television. With all the money they saved on ads(close to $ 800 million a year in current dollars), the tobaccocompanies managed to make sure that major sports events wouldoccur against the backdrop of a massive cigarette ad. Theysponsored tennis tournaments and drag races; they poured adsinto newspapers and magazines; they papered highways and innercities with acres of billboards. They crafted new brands tospecific demographics – Eve, Misty, and Capri for women,following the launch of Virginia Slims; Uptown and Kool forAfrican Americans; American Spirit for Native Americans. Movie industry spokesmen claim that product placementhasn’t happened since 1990, and last November’s settlement nowforbids it. And it should be said that Hollywood directors arefar more likely to be slaves to fashion than to the tobaccoindustry. But whatever the reason, by the mid-1990s, Hollywoodmovies were once again filled with smoke. According to theAmerican Lung Association, in 133 top movies produced in 1994and 1995, 82 percent of the lead or supporting characters smoke.

In fairness to Hollywood, the anti-smoking movement itselfmay deserve some of the blame for recent increases in teensmoking. Like so many social crusaders before them, they’veoccasionally lapsed into self-righteousness – thereby invitingteens to take up cigarettes as the torch of fashionablerebellion. They have supported laws that allow police to arrestand fine teenagers caught with cigarettes – a strategy thatblames the young smoker instead of the marketers. The tobacco companies have worked hard in recent years todress their product as “forbidden fruit”. They’ve supported lawsthat allow police to arrest and fine teenagers caught withcigarettes, and promised not to oppose them as part of lastNovember’s settlement. And they’ve launched massive campaignsthat are designed, supposedly, to combat teen smoking. The best approach seems to be the one that worked back inthe late ’60s: satire. California, which funds anti-smokingcommercials with the proceeds of a 25-cent cigarette surtaxpassed in 1988, has led the way in this area. One of theirrecent ads features a group of distinguished young men intuxedos who light their cigarettes as a gorgeous young womanwalks in. As the announcer tells us about the link betweensmoking and impotence, their cigarettes suddenly go limp – andthe woman looks mockingly at them and walks away. ”Cigarettes,”the announcer says. “Still think they’re sexy?”These campaigns represent a promising start. But as theCalifornia example suggests, they’re vulnerable to politicalmeddling. At the national level too, the tobacco industry, withtypical agility, has found a way to undermine them. Buried deepin last November’s settlement agreement is a clause stating thatthe money spent on anti-smoking ads through a nationalfoundation created by the settlement for that purpose shall beused “only for public education and advertising regarding theaddictiveness, health effects, and social costs related to theuse of tobacco products and shall not be used for any personalattack on, or vilification of, any person (whether by name orbusiness affiliation), company, or governmental agency, whetherIn other words, the settlement bars the kinds of ads thathave been so successful in California and Massachusetts. Therestriction isn’t watertight – it only applies to the foundationcreated by the settlement, and states could use other funds topay for anti-smoking campaigns. But that’s not likely, giventhat the foundation is slated to get $ 25 million a year foreducation and media purposes. And many states have already madeit clear that they intend to use the rest of the money to fillgaps in their budgets. New York City plans to use its share toclean up public schools, Los Angeles wants to repair itssidewalks, Louisiana will reduce the state debt, and Kentuckymay use some of its money to help ailing tobacco farmers. Manyof these states may find themselves running toothlessanti-smoking campaigns – which is precisely what the “ Proposed tobacco industry settlement” 20 June 1997Kluger, Richard. Ashes to Ashes Los Angeles, Calif.: Vintage S.1414Universal Tobacco Settlement Act (Placed in the Senate) 7Hamilton JL. “The demand for cigarettes: advertising, the healthscare, and the cigarette advertising ban.” Review of EconomicsGoldman LK, Glantz SA. “Evaluation of antismoking advertisingSiegel M., “Mass Media Antismoking Campaigns: A Powerful Toolfor Health Promotion.” Ann. Intern Med., 1998;129:128-132Federal Trade Commission, “1997 Federal Trade Commission Reportto Congress for 1995, Pursuant to the Federal Cigarette LabelingHu T, Keler TE, et. al., “The Impact of California anti-smokinglegislation on cigarette sales, consumption, and prices.”Tobacco Control. 1995;4(Suppl 1):S34-8Bibliography:

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The War on Smoking: Anti-smoking Campaigns. (2019, Jan 25). Retrieved from