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California and the West

New Anti-Smoking Ads Praised for Striking Hard at Big Tobacco

Health: The state's latest TV spots hit cigarette makers for selling a cancer-causing product and accuse them of 'lying.'


SACRAMENTO — Answering critics who accuse the state of running a lackluster anti-tobacco campaign, the Davis administration on Thursday unveiled seven new TV ads attacking cigarette makers for promoting a product that causes cancer and other deadly diseases.

The TV spots, and another seven ads to run in newspapers and on radio, are part of a $45-million media campaign financed by a tax on cigarettes.

Anti-tobacco activists praised the ads as hard-hitting, noting that one spot strikes a particularly tough tone by using the word "lying" in reference to cigarette manufacturers.

"This is very good news," said UC San Francisco Medical School professor Stanton A. Glantz, author of a book about tobacco politics in California and one of the fiercest critics of the state's effort in the past. "They are moving in the right direction, even if they're moving slowly."

Jennie Cook, chairwoman of a state tobacco education advisory committee that has called for tougher ads, agreed that the new commercials "definitely have a stronger tone."

"In the beginning, we had a little trouble getting attention" from Gov. Gray Davis, Cook said. "But these ads are great. I can't complain anymore."

The ads include two spots in Asian languages and a third in Spanish. They will air this week in Los Angeles and Sacramento and spread statewide next week on a mix of programs, ranging from "Monday Night Football" to "The X-Files."

"These ads are very effective and hit on a lot of themes we believe will reach people in a powerful way," said state health Director Diana M. Bonta. "We have an aggressive program that shows the realities of tobacco use and how this industry has not told the truth about its product."

Most of the ads feature real Californians describing how cigarettes have harmed them--sometimes in graphic detail.

One ad, aimed at Asian-language communities and titled "Scars of Smoking," features an elderly cancer patient going through the unpleasant daily ritual of cleaning the tracheotomy opening in his throat. Another, called "Bedroom," shows a couple in bed and deals with their frustration with the man's impotence--caused by smoking.

A third ad, called "Taps," features an African American man at the military funeral for his father. "My Pops was killed by the people who make cigarettes," the son says. "World War II, the Korean War. He was there. . . . Back then they gave cigarettes to the soldiers for free."

Two commercials feature the return of "Debi," a woman who previously appeared on air in a spot showing her smoking through her tracheotomy hole. That ad ranks as the most memorable of any the state has produced, surveys show.

In one of the new commercials, Debi says "the tobacco companies always said that nicotine isn't addictive. They were lying. Tobacco kills a little part of you every day." The ad is punctuated by Debi's heavy breathing through her tracheotomy hole.

One of the ads is a departure from the reality-based spots, using a cartoon crocodile--labeled "Big Tobacco"--who insists he has changed for the better by helping social causes. When the crocodile is asked whether he plans to stop selling cigarettes, however, he rages and stomps off the screen.

That ad, Bonta said, is designed to highlight the "hypocrisy" of Philip Morris Cos., which last year launched a $100-million-a-year TV ad blitz aimed at humanizing the company by showcasing its charitable endeavors. The company's messages describe its efforts on such problems as hunger and domestic violence, ending with the tag line, "Working to make a difference. The people of Philip Morris."

The state's anti-tobacco campaign is financed by a 25-cent-a-pack cigarette tax approved by California voters in 1988. This year's $45-million media effort is part of a $114-million budget that also pays for school programs, grants to community groups and smoking research at the University of California.

There is some evidence that the campaign is working. Before it began, 25% of adult Californians smoked. Today, the figure is 18%--lower than any other state except Utah. Last year, cigarette use by teenagers fell by more than a third. With 6.9% of the state's teenagers smoking, California has the lowest rate in the nation.

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