Philip Morris Strikes Back Over Ad Criticism

Can the tobacco industry help to prevent use of its own product? The debate reached fever pitch today as the American Legacy Foundation and Philip Morris traded charges over a study that says PM’s anti-smoking campaign is ineffective.

According to a new study published in the June issue of the American Journal for Public Health, the new Philip Morris's “Think, Don't Smoke” campaign “actually leaves young people more open to the idea of smoking.”

The study examined how the American Legacy Foundation's “truth” campaign and the Philip Morris campaign have influenced youths' attitudes, beliefs and intentions toward tobacco. Exposure to the “truth” counter-marketing advertisements was consistently associated with an increase in anti-tobacco attitudes and beliefs, whereas exposure to Philip Morris's ads generally was not, according to the study.

Hogwash, says Philip Morris. It has problems with the research contribution made in the report by the American Legacy Foundation, which is the agency behind the more aggressive, and dark, anti-smoking ads called “Truth.”

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"Since first learning of this study several months ago, we reviewed the academic literature on which we based our advertising approach and the research we conducted prior to airing our ads," said Howard Willard, Senior Vice President of Youth Smoking Prevention at Philip Morris U.S.A. "Based on our comprehensive review, we are confident that our youth smoking prevention ads clearly convey the message that not smoking is the right decision for kids to make. Because we are committed to continuously improving our efforts, we are very interested in reviewing the American Legacy Foundation's study to see if any changes to our approach are warranted."

PM leans on academic data to show that it and the tobacco industry’s efforts are working. It shows data that supports a significant reduction in youth smoking rates. According to the 2001 Monitoring the Future study conducted by the University of Michigan and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the incidence of youth smoking among 8th, 10th and 12th graders decreased in 2001. The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that over the past four years there has been a 22 percent decline in youth smoking rates.

"Philip Morris U.S.A.'s Youth Smoking Prevention department believes that this reduction is the result of the collective efforts and resources of many committed public and private sector organizations, including Philip Morris U.S.A.," said Willard. "We will continue to support initiatives, including advertising, in collaboration with others to help prevent youth smoking."

PM claims that “extensive qualitative and quantitative research” is done prior to airing advertising. More than 13,000 kids and their parents were interviewed as part of Philip Morris U.S.A. Youth Smoking Prevention department's research on its ads. “The research is conducted prior to any of the ads being disseminated to ensure clarity, persuasiveness and likeability. Philip Morris U.S.A.'s Youth Smoking Prevention department does not air any ad unless it meets a minimum standard whereby 90 percent or more of the children interviewed clearly identify an anti-smoking message,” the company says. “Most ads score above 95 percent on message clarity.”

Since its inception in 1998, Philip Morris U.S.A.'s Youth Smoking Prevention department has aired 19 commercials designed for youth. In total, Philip Morris U.S.A.'s Youth Smoking Prevention department has spent over $300 million on a comprehensive approach to youth smoking prevention.

The American Legacy Foundation claims the effort is not enough and is actually counterproductive to antismoking efforts. “It’s time for Philip Morris and the rest of the tobacco industry to get out of the youth-prevention business,” American Legacy CEO Cheryl Heaton told The Wall Street Journal. “They have a profound conflict of interest that cannot be overcome.”

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