STUDY says national pact fails to stop smoking ads for children

Wednesday, August 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) _ The multibillion-dollar national tobacco pact has failed to end a torrent of cigarette advertising targeted at teen-age magazine readers, a study found.

The study, published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, says cigarette makers have kept up a high level of spending for magazine ads targeted at middle- and high school-age children.

``What surprises me is the sheer gall of the tobacco industry in general: their willingness to continue to find ways to get around the very agreement they entered into,'' said former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, who signed the pact. He is now president of Common Cause, a citizen's lobbying group.

The study's two Boston-based authors say magazine ads for cigarette brands popular with teen-agers reached 82 percent of them last year. That's down from 88 percent in 1999, but the study's authors say the latest figure is still way too high.

The major tobacco companies spent a total of $127 million last year advertising brands popular with youth. Ads appeared in magazines like People, TV Guide, Sports Illustrated, Motor Trend, Mademoiselle, and Rolling Stone.

The study data came from the state of California, which has joined several other states in asking courts to punish R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., contending it has violated its promise to stop marketing to youngsters.

``Our findings suggest that the tobacco settlement was a total failure in terms of protecting kids from cigarette advertising,'' said study co-author Dr. Michael Siegel, a public health specialist at Boston University.

Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids, said the study shows that ``the tobacco industry has succeeded in circumventing the primary goal of ... the agreement.'' He co-wrote an accompanying editorial.

In the November 1998 settlement, tobacco companies agreed in a legal settlement to pay a total of $206 billion to 46 states by the year 2025. Another $40 billion in separate settlements was previously reached by four other states.

Manufacturers agreed to forgo advertising specifically aimed at youth, ban use of cartoon characters in ads or promotions, extend restrictions on billboard advertising and take other actions.

A study by the National Conference of State Legislatures, released Saturday, says states are spending just 5 percent of their settlement funds on smoking prevention. More than a third goes to health care programs of varying kinds, but a quarter boosts endowments or state budget reserves.

Ellen Merlo, a spokeswoman for Philip Morris U.S.A., said the agreement has worked to some degree. ``The overall profile of tobacco has been dramatically reduced in this country,'' she said.

In the wake of the pact, the company removed ads from more than 50 publications to avoid targeting young people. However, Merlo said industry standards are needed so that all cigarette makers work under the same guidelines.

R.J. Reynolds spokeswoman Jan Smith said the company only advertises in magazines with mostly adult readerships.

``We believe the advertising policy we've got in place is a responsible way to minimize the number of cigarette ads minors might see in publications,'' she said.

Tobacco opponents said more legal action and federal regulations are needed to help the tobacco agreement fulfill its promise. Despite their disappointments, they said the national pact was still worthwhile.

``It still offers the ingredients, at a minimum, for making the tobacco companies play by the same rules,'' Harshbarger said.