CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/TOBACCO ADVERTISING - Can tobacco stake a claim as a caring industry? Opponents say the new ads will encourage the young to smoke

As the Department of Health prepares to rush the bill to ban

tobacco advertising into law, making the most of Tony Blair's decision

to postpone the general election, it seems strange to hear a tobacco

executive waxing lyrical about an upcoming ad.



But that's exactly what Adam Bryan-Brown, the vice-president, corporate

affairs for the cigarette giant JT International, is doing. 'The work is

good and some of the plans we have for the future are exciting,' he

says. 'We've reason to believe that this campaign will be very effective

in achieving its objectives.'



Has Bryan-Brown found a way to combat the massive restrictions that

could be placed on UK cigarette advertising by the time the country goes

to the polls? It depends who you ask, but on the face of it, nothing

could be further from the truth.



The campaign in question is that being prepared by TBWA/London for JTI,

Philip Morris and British American Tobacco. Building on campaigns that

have recently run in Portugal and Russia, its stated aim is to prevent

youth smoking, something that Bryan-Brown describes as a central aim of

the industry.



'For many years we've been working on programmes, including advertising,

to stop children from smoking,' he says. 'We recognise that our product

is controversial. Children don't have the ability to make an educated

choice about it and therefore we believe they shouldn't smoke. Maybe

people will find that tough to believe, but there it is.'



Some people find it particularly tough to believe. The public health

pressure group ASH has responded angrily to the prospect of the TBWA

campaign.



It points out that the marketing push, which is due to appear later this

month, will coincide not only with the UK tobacco bill but also with a

World Health Organisation forum in early May aimed at establishing

international protocol on tobacco advertising. All in all, this is a

crucial time for tobacco companies to parade their credentials for

responsible marketing behaviour in front of the politicians.



'The industry's brief to the agency will be to come up with an ad

campaign that looks the part and is likely to win the approval of

politicians,' ASH's research manager, Amanda Sandford, says. 'This

campaign could well affect politicians' views of the industry and

persuade them that it's being reasonable.'



'This is nothing to do with creating an image,' David Davies, the

vice-president, corporate affairs for Philip Morris, counters. 'We do

other things to address that.'



On one level this seems a reasonable enough assertion. After all, the

anti-youth smoking campaign will not carry the brands of the tobacco

companies financing it. Instead the public will be directed to the

website of an as yet unnamed public entity which itself links to the

sites of Philip Morris and company.



'We're not making a big song and dance about this because we don't want

the focus to be on the industry but on the campaign,' Bryan-Brown

says.



However, there's no denying that campaigns like TBWA's do have a crucial

part to play in the future of the tobacco industry. Now that tobacco

companies no longer deny its harmful effects, they need to position

smoking in a different way - as an activity of consenting adults and the

right to which is an important personal freedom. Campaigns stressing

that smoking is not for kids reinforce this position not only in the

eyes of politicians but in the eyes of potential adult smokers as

well.



As a result, it's worth the tobacco industry's while to pour money into

this sort of work, even if it doesn't advertise their product directly.

As other methods of positioning the brand in the public's eye are

restricted, this is likely to become an ever more attractive route. JTI

already runs more than 130 anti-youth smoking programmes in more than 90

countries. The TBWA campaign will raise this activity to a global scale

and it seems reasonable to assume that similar briefs, from other

tobacco companies, could well become available in the future.



So could this new form of tobacco advertising provide some sustainable

agency cash while enabling creative directors to scribble away on briefs

with their consciences eased by the prospect of preventing youngsters

lighting up?



Not likely, according to ASH.



'It's not worthwhile to focus on persuading youngsters not to smoke,'

Sandford says. 'It's virtually impossible to come up with a campaign

that can do that. In fact it's likely to have the opposite effect. If

you say something is an adult habit it only makes it more attractive to

teenagers.'



'You can't stop young people doing what they like to do,' Graham Bednash

of Michaelides & Bednash, agrees.



'They can decode corporate behaviour quite effectively now. They will

know that the tobacco companies are just trying to appeal to

politicians.'



According to Davies, though, the tobacco companies have pulled out all

the stops in developing the campaign - and have learned from the

mistakes of campaigns, such as those dealing with drugs and Aids, that

opt for a lecturing tone.



'One of the cornerstones has been to conduct research among parents,

teachers and the young, to understand what types of commercial will

actually be effective,' he says. 'We will feature someone from young

people's own peer group, speaking their own language, who they can

admire and who doesn't smoke.'



However, the central question over a youth anti-smoking initiative

remains.



As Bednash puts it: 'Does the campaign explain when you should start?'



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