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Anti-Smoking Ads Unveiled

California and the West

Tobacco: Critics say two billboards and one TV spot fall short of Wilson administration promises. More are planned by summer, state official says.

March 04, 1998|JOHN M. GLIONNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Wilson administration Tuesday unveiled its newest anti-smoking media campaign--including a reprise of its popular billboard satire of Marlboro Man cowboy ads, this time with one masculine horseback rider confessing to another: "I miss my lung, Bob."

But anti-smoking advocates said the two new billboard ads and one television spot fell short of administration promises to increase pressure on the tobacco industry. They charged that officials have allowed the ad campaign--funded by a voter-approved tobacco tax--to wither in recent years.

Stanton Glantz, a professor at the UC San Francisco Medical School and a leader in the anti-tobacco movement, told a Los Angeles meeting of the state Tobacco Education Research and Oversight Committee that the small number of new advertisements shows how the Wilson administration continues to go soft on the tobacco industry.

California's anti-smoking effort is funded by the 25-cent-a-pack tax imposed by Proposition 99, which voters approved in 1988. But since a flurry of ads when the program was launched in 1990, the pace of new ones has fallen off dramatically, say activists like Glantz.

"We had the national model, the international model, of a successful approach to [preventing] smoking," Glantz said in an interview before the oversight committee meeting. "And it has been run into the ground in order to make a big contributor to the Republican Party happy," he said, referring to the tobacco industry.

On another front in the cigarette wars, a study to be released today by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services seems to contradict claims made by bar owners that a 2-month-old state ban on smoking in taverns and nightclubs is driving customers away.

According to the study, 85% of respondents said the new law would not dissuade them from going to a bar. Slightly more than a third of that group said they would be more likely to go to a smoke-free bar, while the rest said it makes no difference whether a tavern is smoke-free.

Seventy percent of all respondents said it is either "very important" or "somewhat important" to maintain a nonsmoking environment in bars. Slightly less than two-thirds of people surveyed reported that they either strongly or somewhat approve of the smoking ban. Twenty-eight percent of respondents disapproved of the law.

The telephone survey polled 455 Los Angeles County residents who have frequented at least one bar since the measure took effect Jan. 1, expanding the state's ban on workplace smoking.

"The bottom line is that bar patrons support the smoke-free law," said Jonathan Fielding, director of public health for the county. "From a public health view, there's strong rationale for this law."

Damian Hanlon, owner of Molly Malone's pub on Fairfax Avenue and a critic of the law, said the survey masks the fact that bar patrons are routinely defying the nonsmoking law. "They're walking into bars and asking for ashtrays," Hanlon said.

The new anti-smoking ads include a television spot, to begin airing Thursday, featuring a veteran bartender decrying the effects of secondhand smoke. Officials say the workplace law was expanded to protect the 850,000 Californians employed in bars.

The state released its last round of anti-smoking billboard and television ads in 1997.

In addition to the new Marlboro parody, officials said a second billboard ad would mimic a barfly Lothario who says to a woman, "Your scent is intoxicating," to which she responds: "Yours is carcinogenic."

Critics of the campaign say that for two years running in the middle 1990s, Gov. Pete Wilson and lawmakers blunted the media campaign by approving bills that diverted more than $100 million in Proposition 99 funds. The cigarette tax generates about $450 million a year that is supposed to finance a variety of education, health care, research and environmental programs.

In 1990, the state campaign produced 13 television ads, which brought about a dramatic decrease in smoking across California, Glantz told the committee Tuesday.

But in the past three years combined, only eight ads were produced. Glantz said the decrease in public pressure resulted in 500 million more packs of cigarettes being sold in California--worth an extra $1 billion to the tobacco industry.

"That's a lot of cancer," he told the committee, "a lot of heart attacks."

Colleen Stevens, chief of the media campaign unit for the state Department of Health Services, promised the committee that several new television and print ads--including a spot to discourage cigar smoking--would be ready by summertime.

But activists weren't satisfied, saying that new storyboards promised by the administration for Tuesday were not delivered. "We are deeply concerned about this broken promise," said John C. Longhurst, president of the American Heart Assn.'s Western offices, in a news release.

"This is very disturbing, given the Wilson administration's dismal record on producing new ads to fight the tobacco industry despite millions of dollars available for the project."

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