When I was a kid, I used to love watching "The Flintstones," the zany Hanna-Barbera cartoon about a Stone Age family that ran in prime time on Friday nights. I’m pretty sure the network was ABC.
It seems hard to believe now, but back then—in the 1960s—Winston cigarettes made ads featuring Fred Flintstone kicking back and lighting up. A brief respite from his rough production schedule, I guess. I’m pretty sure the ads aired in and around the show. Crazy, right?
Ah, the memories.
All were brought back to me by a court decision in a nearly 20-year-old case the government waged against Big Tobacco, slamming it for all the misinformation (lies) it spread about tobacco. And the fact that BT intentionally made ciggies more addictive so people who smoked would buy more.
The federal court hearing the case ordered the companies to run “corrective ads” that spell out the dangers of consuming tobacco products.
Altria — whose subsidiary Phillip Morris USA sells Marlboro, Parliament and more than a dozen other tobacco brands — estimates that the court-mandated program, which starts in November and runs for at least a year, will cost it a little north of $30 million.
Not sure what other tobacco companies covered by the settlement expect to pay, but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t in the same ballpark. But compared to the billions in profits those companies have made over the years, it's less than a slap on the wrist.
The companies covered, including Reynolds American (which for a long time made Fred’s favorite brand) are jointly running the ads. At least one ad a week will air in prime time for a minimum of 52 weeks. Messages are designed to be “corrective” to all the BS ads BT aired on TV and radio until they were banned in 1971.
One of the new ads that’s required to air includes language that the tobacco companies “intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction."
Another ad will acknowledge: "Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans every day."
Maybe one ad should say, “If you smoke you are a f*cking idiot, unless, of course, you have a death wish. Then it’s OK because cigarettes will kill you. Slowly. Very Slowly.”
One headline I saw read, “Broadcast Nets Get Tobacco Ad Windfall.” How ironic that the major enablers of cigarette advertising back in its heyday should get a windfall. That’s just not right. TV and print shouldn’t make a dime off these court-mandated ads. I can remember print ads with their “Doctors Recommend…” name your cigarette brand.
Ignorance may be bliss, but in reality, media was a co-conspirator with BT in foisting the fantasy of cigarette smoking as glamorous, manly, cool, relaxing, everything except what it really is — deadly. Oh, and ad agencies—f*ck you, too. You scripted the fantasy.
So media that stands to benefit from this court-mandated program, why not stand up and give whatever proceeds you receive to a worthy cause. You too, agencies, that is those of you that reaped millions from scripting the fantasy. Think about how you might give back.