CLOSE-UP: GLOBAL BRIEF - Tobacco turns public-spirited. Harriet Green reports on a US tobacco giant planning public service spots for TV

Philip Morris is considering airing public service-style commercials on US television aimed at halting under-age smoking (Campaign, 28 August).

Philip Morris is considering airing public service-style

commercials on US television aimed at halting under-age smoking

(Campaign, 28 August).



Is nothing sacred? Has the big bad US tobacco company suddenly turned

all altruistic and public spirited?



Well, not exactly. There are canny reasons behind its decision to

dissuade children from smoking. The US tobacco industry is riding on a

high having defeated a sweeping anti-smoking bill in June. But it cannot

be complacent.



The defeated bill would have raised the price of cigarettes over five

years, expanded the Food and Drug Administration regulation of nicotine

and subjected the industry to a new set of advertising and labelling

restrictions.



Philip Morris, whose brands include Marlboro and Benson & Hedges, joined

with three other tobacco companies to fund TV spots lobbying against the

legislation, focusing on the sharply increased taxes smokers would have

had to pay. The campaign, which saw dollars 40 million spent on

advertising, struck home, and the bill was defeated.



The prime supporter of the bill, President Clinton, hit back at the

Republicans who voted to defeat it, saying: ’This battle is far from

over.’ He has since instructed the Government to conduct annual surveys

on which brands are favoured by under-age smokers.



And now, Philip Morris is filming its public service campaign, not, the

company insisted, in response to Clinton’s threat.



Tobacco may have won the battle so far, but if under-age smoking does

not decline soon, the industry faces further legislation.



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