December 3, 1998
Philip Morris Assembles $100 Million Anti-Smoking Program Aimed at Teens
Addenda: Snyder Acquires London Agency
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By CONSTANCE L. HAYSn what appears to be the most elaborate and costly effort of its kind by a tobacco company, Philip Morris U.S.A., the nation's largest cigarette maker, plans to spend at least $100 million a year to discourage children and teen-agers from smoking at a time when underage smoking has risen drastically.
A spokeswoman for the Philip Morris Companies characterized the cost as close to the amount the unit spends to market Marlboros, one of the most popular brands among teen-aged smokers. The program is also in addition to the $250 million specified in the $206 billion settlement signed last month by the tobacco industry and 46 states.
As a first step, Philip Morris will begin running three commercials on Monday that show young people in various situations -- on a bus, outside school, hanging out with friends -- who discuss why they don't smoke. Each spot ends with the line "Think. Don't smoke." The Philip Morris name appears in the final frames.
The commercials, aimed at 10- to 14-year-olds, are part of a wider strategy that will include school and community programs intended to reduce underage smoking; advice to parents and other adults about preventing underage smoking and the continuation of existing programs like "Action Against Access," which the company started in 1995 to halt cigarette sales to minors in stores.
The effort is to be repeated every year, though less may be allocated to television. "We don't have a specific plan to discontinue," said Ellen Merlo, the company's senior vice president for corporate affairs.
Tobacco-industry critics asserted that the campaign was just another attempt to prop up a cigarette company's battered public image.
But Michael E. Szymanczyk, the president and chief executive of Philip Morris, said his purpose was to prevent children from smoking.
"We don't want kids to smoke," he said. "We're intensifying our efforts that we started a number of years ago by launching this new smoking-intervention initiative, starting with these ads."
One anti-smoking expert said the images conveyed in the ads would not be powerful enough to persuade teen-agers not to smoke. "What we have found works well with kids is shock ads," said Gregory Connolly, director of the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program. Since 1993, when the program started, smoking in the state has fallen 30 percent and remained level among teen-agers even as smoking has risen among teen-agers nationally, he said.
Massachusetts is now running a commercial showing a 29-year-old mother who has had a lung transplant and worries aloud about whether she will survive another and what will happen to her 8-year-old if she doesn't. "It resonates really well," Connolly said, adding that he had received calls from people who said they had not smoked since seeing the ad.
Connolly also favors ads that tell teen-agers they are subtly being steered by tobacco companies. "The Philip Morris ads are trying to blame their peers," he said. "The last thing they want to run is anything that tells a kid there's a tobacco company out there that is trying to manipulate you."
Carolyn Levy, who was named to head Philip Morris's new Youth Smoking Prevention program in April, said the company had chosen images of teen-agers resisting peer pressure to smoke because its research had shown that tactic to be the most effective.
One ad, showing what she called "bashing the industry executives," played well with a focus group but confused younger viewers when it was shown to a larger audience. "The younger kids interpreted it as a pro-smoking ad," Ms. Levy said.
Health-related messages were also rejected, she added, citing research that contended that "95 percent of kids who smoke underage say they will not be smoking in five years," and are thus thought to be unaffected by health warnings.
Other tobacco companies have programs of their own. R. J. Reynolds, the tobacco division of RJR Nabisco, operates a program called "Right Decisions, Right Now" that tries to discourage teen-age smoking. In addition, the company has produced a 15-minute video available free at Viacom's Blockbuster stores and television public-service announcements that do not mention the company.
"It's a realistic acknowledgment on our part that we market a controversial product that is known to have health risks associated with its use," John Singleton, a company spokesman, said. "We think it's important to make sure all people who choose to use our products are adult smokers."
The Philip Morris ads, which will be shown nationally this month on ABC, WB, Fox, Fox Kids, TBS, USA, Cartoon Network and several other channels, took about two months to produce, said Jane Brite, an executive vice president at Young & Rubicam, the advertising agency that worked on them. More commercials are still being produced, and the company is buying broadcast time for January as well.
While a campaign to discourage smoking seems at odds with Philip Morris's business goals, Szymanczyk said that was not a worry. "This industry has declined in volume for years," he said. "Our success has come from building our share of the adult smoking market as it has existed in any given year.
If that market ceases to be a viable business proposition," he added, "then we will have done what any successful consumer products company does -- we will have found new areas to apply our resources to."
Kathryn Kahler Vose, communications director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an anti-smoking advocacy group, said the ads were meant to improve Philip Morris's image, not reduce smoking. According to Competitive Media Reporting, Philip Morris spent $63.8 million on Marlboro advertising in the first half of this year, and several experts said teen-agers identified strongly with the macho, independent image conveyed by the Marlboro man.
"They are trying to buy respectability when this is in fact more P.R. for them," Ms. Vose said. "If Philip Morris was serious about curbing youth smoking, they would quit using the Marlboro man, which is the most popular and most recognized cigarette icon. Most of the kids who smoke smoke Marlboro."
Szymanczyk insisted that improving the company's image was not a motive of his. "I really don't care if we get any publicity about it at all," he said. "From my point of view, you do these things because they are the right things to do, not as P.R. campaigns."
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