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Philip Morris USA slams 'Truth' ads from foundation

Philip Morris USA, suggesting the American Legacy Foundation's anti-smoking ad campaign and Web site violate "the spirit" of the agreement that funds them, is hinting its billion-dollar payments toward the effort may be in jeopardy unless major changes are made.

"We are seriously exploring all our options," said Brendan McCormick, a manager of media relations for PM. When asked whether the country's largest tobacco maker would seriously consider halting payments for the program, Mr. McCormick responded, "We haven't ruled anything out."

MORE TOBACCO REACTION

PM's comments were the first from the tobacco industry since the foundation launched its "Truth" ads last week from Arnold Communications, Boston, and Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami. Other tobacco makers said last week they are reviewing the ads and may have statements as soon as today.

The foundation is spending $300 million a year on the anti-smoking effort, with $185 million allocated to advertising and public relations activities. Funding is calculated based on market share, making PM the largest contributor to the long-term effort.

PM said last week the "Truth" ads and the foundation's Web site appear to conflict with requirements contained in the tobacco industry's agreement with state attorneys general to fund the foundation. That agreement stipulates the foundation can't "vilify" the industry.

One foundation spot now airing was surreptitiously filmed in the lobby of PM's New York headquarters. In it, a woman tries to present a lie detector machine to someone at "a major tobacco company's" marketing department. She's trying to garner the truth because "You've said smoking is addictive and then that it isn't."

The foundation's Web site (www.thetruth.org) gives as its mission statement: "Big tobacco is spending billions on a war to get inside our heads and get us to smoke...They are afraid of us discovering the truth about what they've done...and standing up tall to question business as usual."

A second spot in the effort features people unloading bod6y bags in front of a tobacco company's headquarters. "Do you know how many people tobacco kills every day?" an actor yells.

None of the ads identifies the American Legacy Foundation as the sponsor.

All ads use a "Truth" theme that was first used in the 1997 Florida campaign Crispin created.

NO DECISION YET

Though ABC, CBS and NBC had not approved airing any of the spots last week (AA, Feb. 7), PM maintains it has major problems with the foundation's campaign.

"We are very disappointed. We don't think the campaign serves the purpose of the foundation, which is to educate the public on tobacco-related health issues," said Mr. McCormick. "In our opinion, the ad and the Web site are inconsistent with the foundation's purpose and with our own commitment to comply with the letter and spirit of the settlement agreement.

"We think the settlement agreement represents an opportunity to put some of the unproductive acrimony behind us and provides a framework to move forward to address our mutual concerns."

The company, however, declined to say what steps it might take.

SPOTS TONED DOWN

Washington state Attorney General Christine Gregoire has acknowledged she ordered the foundation's initial ads toned down, and network executives last week said scripts that originally cited PM by name had been altered to remove mention of the company.

The foundation last week said the ads would continue.

"These ads hit on the messages and are well within the boundaries of the settlement agreement," said Bill Furmanski, the foundation's communications manager. "They talk about the addictiveness of tobacco, the health effects of tobacco and the social cost of tobacco use. As long as we talk about those items and communicate effectively with young people, we are well within the limits of the settlement."

 

Ira Teinowitz, Advertising Age. February 14, 2000.

Copyright © 2000 Crain Communications, Inc.. All rights reserved.