Tobacco company's anti-smoking ads less effective than watchdog group's, study says

Wednesday, May 29th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Hard-hitting ads made by an anti-smoking foundation keep teen-agers away from cigarettes, while ads produced by tobacco maker Philip Morris do little to dissuade teens from lighting up, according to a study commissioned by the foundation.

``What we found is our campaign resonates much better with young people,'' said Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of the American Legacy Foundation.

The foundation hired researchers to compare the effects of anti-smoking ``truth'' ads produced by Legacy with the Philip Morris USA's ``think, don't smoke'' campaign.

The findings, which were published in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health, were based on surveys of roughly 9,000 12-to-17 year-olds conducted before and after the ``truth'' campaign was launched two years ago. The Philip Morris campaign began in 1998.

The percentage of young people who reported knowing about a tobacco marketing campaign nearly doubled in the first 10 months of the ``truth'' campaign, going from 24 percent to 46 percent, the study said.

Twenty-two percent indicated they were aware of the Legacy campaign, compared with 3 percent who said they knew about the Philip Morris ads.

Nonsmoking teens exposed to the Legacy ads were more likely to rule out smoking in the future. However, exposure to Philip Morris ads had the opposite effect, the study found.

``Exposure to 'think, don't smoke' was associated with an increase in the odds of youths intending to smoke in the next year,'' the Journal article said.

Matthew Farrelly, a health economist and the study's lead author, said Legacy ads are much more hard hitting than Philip Morris ads.

``If you look at truth ads you'll see the toll that tobacco plays on the lives of smokers,'' Farrelly said. For example, he cited an ad featuring teens dragging body bags in front of a cigarette company's office to show the company it markets a deadly product. The ad states that 1,200 people die each day from tobacco-diseases releases.

In Philip Morris ads, ``you won't see statistics about the toll of tobacco,'' Farrelly said.

Philip Morris ads often show teen-age athletes rejecting overtures to smoke, such as a girl who turns down a cigarette and goes on to get a black belt in karate.

Research shows that emphasizing the long-term consequences of smoking is not as effective as highlighting more immediate problems such as a lack endurance, said Howard Willard, senior vice president of youth smoking prevention at Philip Morris.

Willard said Philip Morris conducts extensive research to ensure its ads are effective, and he said something is working.

He cited a government study released earlier this month that showed smoking by high-school students dropped to its lowest level in a decade. The study found 28.5 percent of high schoolers surveyed last year reported they had smoked a cigarette in the previous month _ down from 36.4 percent five years ago.

``We believe that our advertisements are one of a number of factors that are contributing to that decline,'' Willard said.

How to effectively communicate with teen-agers has been of interest to some in the Bush administration lately.

Earlier this month, President Bush's top drug policy adviser, John Walters, announced that a campaign to reduce teen drug use will end if it is not improved. A survey had revealed that there was little evidence the ad campaign had reduced teen drug use in recent years.

The Legacy foundation was created as part of the $206 billion tobacco industry settlement with states in 1998 to organize a national effort to educate the public about the dangers of smoking.