LIVE ISSUE/ANTI-SMOKING ADVERTISING: Govt to target smokers rather than the tobacco companies - Labour’s campaign to stop smoking may now have an impact, John Tylee reports

Few advertising briefs have proved tougher to crack than the one whose declared aim is to convince millions of British smokers to kick their habit.

Few advertising briefs have proved tougher to crack than the one

whose declared aim is to convince millions of British smokers to kick

their habit.



Fed up with what they perceive as government persecution and social

exclusion, smokers have drawn the wagons into a circle to keep the

health fascists - and advertising’s do-gooders - at bay.



While teenage smokers delight in defying appeals not to put their lives

at risk, older tobacco addicts, especially those stuck on the 16th floor

of an inner-city tower block, resent officialdom’s attempts to deny one

of the few pleasures left to them. What’s more, smokers of all ages have

been locked in by some of the most creative advertising of modern

times.



But things are about to change. The Labour Government, whose opposition

to tobacco promotion is a long-held article of faith, is about to commit

pounds 50 million over the next three years to play the tobacco industry

at its own game.



Most of the war-chest will be spent by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. It is

the agency’s prize for winning a four-way pitch that is a precursor to

the most concerted-ever campaign to cut the annual 120,000

smoking-related deaths.



Its timing could not be more apposite. On 10 December, all press,

magazine and poster advertising for tobacco products - into which the

industry has been ploughing an estimated pounds 50 million a year - will

cease. Although the ban on direct marketing of tobacco has been delayed

until July 2000, those promoting the anti-smoking message will soon have

the field to themselves - and they’ll have the resources to carry the

crusade to those who have resisted it most.



Even those heavily involved in cigarette promotion concede that such a

dramatic swing in the balance of advertising power will have an

impact.



’With so much money being spent - and provided the strategy is right -

it would be naive to pretend the campaign will have no effect,’ a senior

agency executive working on tobacco business says.



The key question is what that strategy should be. Ministers are thought

to have taken their cue from Australia where a three-year ad campaign

taking a ’stick and carrot’ approach combining graphic warnings with

promises of practical help to would-be quitters has proved to be

effective. There is also a belief that, as more workplaces ban smoking,

advertising may encourage more smokers to take the final step and give

up.



The Australian experience also suggests that a successful campaign

targeting adult smokers will have a knock-on effect on teenagers,

particularly weight-watching girls with cigarette-smoking role models

like Kate Moss. ’If you can persuade adults, teenagers will buy into it

because they want to be seen as grown-ups,’ an industry source

explains.



In the US, efforts to curb teenage smoking have translated into

advertising that portrays the tobacco industry as the Evil Empire:

dissembling, immoral and highly manipulative. One commercial, by

Florida’s Crispin Porter agency, shows cigarette company chiefs

testifying before Congress to the sound of mocking laughter.



Another, by Arnold Communications in Boston, shows a young girl smoking

while a voiceover warns: ’The tobacco industry needs your child. It’s an

economic imperative. It’s nothing personal. It’s just business - minus a

conscience.’



Arnold has pledged to continue demonising the tobacco barons following

its appointment last month to handle the four-year dollars 1 billion

national anti-smoking campaign financed by the settlement between

tobacco companies and state governments.



Ed Eskandarian, Arnold’s chief executive, says: ’The youth of America

are sceptical of business and we think they will be outraged when they

see how the tobacco companies have lied for so long.’



The brief to agencies pitching for the UK account is understood to have

made it clear that the advertising should not vilify tobacco companies,

which remain a huge source of tax revenue.



There is fear also that to attack tobacco companies could create a seige

mentality, uniting them with smokers in a common cause.



’Public hostility to tobacco companies is much higher in the US than the

UK,’ Amanda Sanford, an Action on Smoking and Health executive,

says.



’We have a long way to go in educating people in Britain about how

deceitful the industry has been.’



Not surprisingly, tobacco companies want the emphasis of the

Government’s campaign to be on curbing under-age smoking and adult

smokers to be left alone.



And industry sources suggest the manufacturers will play hardball if

they find themselves being bashed up by the new anti-smoking blitz. Four

companies have already challenged the European Union directive on

tobacco advertising in the European Court.



Meanwhile, it is likely that the companies will subject the Department

of Health’s advertising to close scrutiny and will call on the

Advertising Standards Authority and the Independent Television

Commission to act at the first sign of perceived unfairness.



Whether the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association would be able to make its

own case through advertising is a moot point. ’We won’t know until we

see the final regulations which are still in draft form,’ John Carlisle,

the TMA’s public affairs director, says.



What’s clear is that the Government’s aim of reducing the number of

smokers from one in four of the UK population to the one in six

proportion achieved in California will take years.



’The advertising must keep grinding away and keep people watching it,’ a

source close to the pitch says. ’It mustn’t scare them so much that they

want a fag.’



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