The advertising agency that helped create the "Truth" antismoking campaign has taken aim at tobacco companies again, but for this effort it has found a most unexpected partner - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky in Miami, donated its creative services to the advocacy group, fashioning a campaign against experimentation on animals by the tobacco companies. The effort employs the shock tactics favored by the organization, but some infuriated representatives of the tobacco companies predicted the tactics would backfire.
The organization's volunteers, dressed as giant laboratory rats, have begun handing out stickers spoofing cigarette packaging to schoolchildren as young as 6 years old. The stickers advertise fake brands like Murderboro (parodying the Marlboro brand made by Philip Morris U.S.A.), Krool (for the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company's Kool brand), and Cadaver and Slay'Em (for R. J. Reynolds Tobacco's Camel and Salem brands, respectively).
The Slay'Em sticker, for example, portrays a crying rabbit in restraints inhaling cigarette smoke over the legend "Spilled Blood, Uncool Tests." The rear of the stickers has photographs of lab animals being forced to breathe cigarette smoke.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, known as PETA, is taking aim at schools in the backyards of several tobacco companies, including R. J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, N.C., before taking the campaign national next month.
The second phase of the $100,000 campaign breaks during the last week of October, when the advocacy group expects to place full-page ads in the obituaries sections of several newspapers, including The Winston-Salem Journal, The Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia and The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. The ads are mock obituaries for laboratory animals that died through the experiments of tobacco companies.
The advocacy group has also posted related material on its Web site. And, if outdoor-advertising companies donate space, the group will print billboard-size ads.
The latest efforts of the organization are a continuation of its campaign to halt the use of animals in product tests, not an antismoking push, according to Dan Mathews, vice president for campaigns at PETA. "If kids stop smoking as a result, we're delighted, but that's not the focus," Mr. Mathews said. "The focus is to get kids to voice their outrage."
"If you do smoke, please choose a brand that doesn't fund animal tests, like American Spirits," he said, referring to a brand made by the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, in Santa Fe, N.M., a subsidiary of R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings.
The distinction means little to tobacco company officials. "PETA is acting irresponsibly by handing out tobacco logos to children," said Ellen Merlo, senior vice president for corporate affairs at Philip Morris U.S.A. in New York. Moreover, the campaign is unduly harsh, she said. "There is never justification for demonization, denigration or disparagement," she said.
Tobacco company representatives also complained about the campaign's accuracy. "We agree with their goal of treating animals humanely," Ms. Merlo said. The group has taken that goal and "exploited it, dramatized it, and created an impression that's just not true," she said.
Jan Smith, senior director for public relations at the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston-Salem, echoed that sentiment. "We do not use animal studies if any other methods exist to get the particular answers our scientists need for a study," she said.
The stickers depict monkeys, dogs and rabbits, but all three of the tobacco companies that are cited on the stickers experiment only on rodents, their representatives said. The companies finance research outside their own laboratories that could involve other animals, but their representatives said that all research follows federal ethics guidelines and involves the minimum number of animals.
Moreover, the research of tobacco companies is not as frivolous or redundant as the campaign charges, said Mark Smith, a spokesman for Brown & Williamson in Louisville, part of British American Tobacco. "As we develop new materials for potentially risk-reduced products, it's incumbent on us to fully test those materials," he said.
"I have to believe, if animals ruled the world, they'd do the same thing."
Mr. Mathews of PETA said the campaign was based on information from the National Institutes of Health, research abstracts in trade journals, research by opponents of animal research and Freedom of Information Act requests.
Chuck Porter, chairman at Crispin Porter, referred calls to the group.
The campaign piggybacks on the continuing antismoking work of the American Legacy Foundation in Washington, which is financed from the $206 billion settlement between the major tobacco companies and 46 state attorneys general.
Preliminary results released last week from a study by the foundation indicated that smoking declined 18 percent among high school students from 2000 to 2002, with the greatest decline, 29 percent, among students with the most exposure to the foundation's television commercials.
"It's always a challenge for us because we don't have much of an ad budget to speak of," Mr. Mathews said. "We decided to put a lot of money into this because there's so much attention to the harmful effects of smoking already."
But just as PETA tries to whip up public pressure, it can be subjected to the same forces. Mothers Against Drunk Driving attacked the group last week for reviving its "Got Beer?" print campaign, which argues to college students that drinking beer is healthier than drinking milk.
And the Center for Consumer Freedom in Washington, a food industry group, bought a full-page ad in the Sept. 30 issue of U. S. News & World Report suggesting that PETA supports violence on behalf of animal rights. Mr. Mathews called the charge "completely untrue."
Nat Ives, The New York Times. September 27, 2002
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