A 2006 federal court order is responsible for the return of Big Tobacco to television, but the ads they will be presenting aren’t intended to benefit the product. The companies will instead begin running ads detailing the negative effects of smoking tobacco.
The ads come 11 years after a federal court ordered tobacco companies to display them, though they were delayed for that period through legal maneuvers.
The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against tobacco companies in 1999, noting that tobacco use had cost the government billions of dollars in healthcare costs related to caring for Americans with illnesses linked to it.
After determining that tobacco companies had misled the public about the health risks, a federal court ordered the companies to make “corrective statements” that would highlight the dangers of smoking.
Now, Philip Morris USA, Altria Group, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. will begin a 260-spot, one-year ad campaign Sunday, to be run Monday through Friday on CBS, ABC and NBC. They will also purchase five full-page ads in the Sunday editions of over 50 newspapers.
Tobacco control experts like Ruth Malone of the University of California, San Francisco, say the 11-year delay means the ads won’t reach people when they are young and most likely to start smoking.
Nine out of 10 smokers begin smoking before age 18, leading most prevention efforts to focus on teenagers. Today, less than 5 percent of viewers under age 25 watch network television, according to Nielsen TV data.
“Their legal strategy is always [to] obstruct, delay, create confusion and buy more time,” Malone, who has studied the industry for 20 years, said. “So, by the time this was finally settled, newspapers have a much smaller readership, and nowadays, who watches network TV?”
Additionally, Robin Koval, president of Truth Initiative, which runs educational anti-tobacco ads that target young people, says the tobacco company ads aren’t engaging.
“It’s black type scrolling on a white screen with the most uninteresting voice in the background,” said Koval.
Using a voice-over technique, the narrators’ statements are reinforced by bold text that explains the effects of tobacco usage. The ad begins by noting that the companies were ordered to make the statements it contains, including:
- “More people die every year from smoking than from murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes and alcohol, combined.”
- “Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans every day.”
- “Smoking also causes reduced fertility, low birth weight in newborns, and cancer of the cervix.”
The Seattle Times reports:
Smoking remains the nation’s leading preventable cause of death and illness, causing more than 480,000 deaths each year, even though smoking rates have been declining for decades. Last year, the adult smoking rate hit a new low of 15 percent, according to government figures. That’s down from the 42 percent of adults who smoked in the mid-1960s.
Experts attribute the decline to smoking bans, cigarette taxes and anti-smoking campaigns by both nonprofit groups like the American Cancer Society and the federal government.