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Tobacco Could Get More Warnings

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Advertisers are troubled over a new bill introduced in the Senate last week that would require nearly half the space of each cigarette ad to disclose health warnings and product ingredients.

The Smoker's Right to Know and Truth in Tobacco Labeling Act, sponsored by Sens. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., would revise health-warning labels on cigarette packs and ads for the first time since 1984.

Thirty percent of the top portion of each ad would carry ten rotating warning messages, which include: "Tobacco smoke can harm your children," "Smoking can kill you" and "Smoking causes sexual dysfunction." Another 15 percent of the space at the bottom of each ad would list some of the 43 known carcinogens contained in cigarettes.

"Big Tobacco's seductive advertising should have to compete with the truth," Lautenberg said. "Pharmaceutical ads must disclose every adverse effect their products might cause--and those products are supposed to correct health problems. Why should tobacco, the most dangerous consumer product on the market, be exempt from the same requirement?"

Advertisers argued that such restrictions violate their First Amendment rights and prevent them from communicating information about their products.

"You just can't take up almost half an ad and claim that you are providing free speech," said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers, here. "The government has become the copywriter and the spokesman, making it virtually impossible for advertisers to get their message to the public."

Defenders of the bill argued that warning labels must be prominently displayed in order to be effective.

"It's truly unfortunate that every time someone proposes increased strength in warning labels, advertisers respond with a knee-jerk reaction," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a public-advocacy group, here. "Advertisers rejected the warning labels adopted in 1984, yet those labels clearly did not hurt the advertising business."

Lautenberg said the bill was timely, given PM's recent statements that it was willing to discuss government regulation of tobacco. "Philip Morris should show its good faith by endorsing this reasonable, common-sense bill as a first step," he said.

"We are certainly open to changes in federal regulation of tobacco, and we are currently reviewing the bill," said Tom Ryan, a PM representative. PM's ad agency, Leo Burnett, Chicago, referred calls to the client.

 

Wendy Melillo, ADWEEK. March 13, 2000.

Copyright © 2000 Adweek and BPI Communications Inc.. All rights reserved.