Warning: RJR Ad Plan Is Dangerous To Print Media Marketplace

Congress isn't just blowing smoke. The nation's second-largest tobacco seller is pulling out of print advertising entirely in 2008 under pressure from politicians.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco--which manufactures tobacco brands Camel, Kool, Winston, Salem, Doral, Eclipse, Export A, and Pall Mall, as well as more obscure brands like Lucky Strike, Capri, and Vantage--is axing print campaigns in response to attacks from Rep. Lois Capps, a California Democrat, and sympathetic colleagues, as well as broader criticism from anti-tobacco advocacy groups.

Earlier this year, Capps sent scathing letters of criticism to magazine publishers for accepting tobacco advertising, focusing on magazines that appeal to young adults, including Cosmopolitan and Us Weekly. These open letters, distributed to the press, spurred conciliatory responses but little action by publishers.

Tobacco manufacturers are generally more likely to respond because of their fear of further government regulation and lawsuits, especially in regard to youth marketing.



Beginning in the 1990s, advocacy groups have pressed tobacco companies to stop advertising in magazines with a mostly youth audience, with mixed success. R.J. Reynolds also came under fire earlier this year for a Camel No. 9 ad, a cigarette brand with distinctly feminine packaging. The ad targeted women in Vogue, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and InStyle.

In 2005, about 22% of high-school students and 21% of adults were at least occasional smokers. However, smoking stats have declined--steadily since the mid-20th century, when its health effects were first documented. 2005 saw the sale of 378 billion cigarettes in the United States, the lowest number since 1951, when the country had half the population. Sales have dropped 20% since 1998 alone, the year of a watershed legal settlement with tobacco companies.

Tobacco companies were banned from TV and radio in 1971, and in recent years, they have shied away from print advertising as well. R.J. Reynolds spent just $13.3 million on print campaigns in 2006. R.J. Reynolds dropped Joe Camel, a cartoon mascot said to appeal to children, in 1997. Still, billboards and events are popular marketing tools for cigarette brands, and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids estimates that in 2007, companies have already spent over $36 billion marketing cigarettes in the U.S. alone.

The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids dismissed R.J. Reynolds' decision as PR-driven: "R.J. Reynolds' announcement looks like damage control intended to deflect growing criticism and legal scrutiny of its cigarette advertising that appeals to children."

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