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‘Freedom’ Campaign Under Siege : Advertising: Anti-smoking activists protest Philip Morris’ Bill of Rights promotion.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It gave the world the cowboy king of macho--the Marlboro Man. Now, wearing a far different hat, tobacco giant Philip Morris is featuring prominent Americans, such as the head of the NAACP and the former president of the University of Notre Dame, in a controversial print ad campaign promoting the Bill of Rights.

Today, ads with Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame and Judith Jamison, artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, will appear in a handful of national newspapers including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

The ads feature close-up photos of the noted personalities along with bold headlines that quote their personal feelings about the Bill of Rights. The ads are a continuation of Philip Morris’s $30-million campaign to promote the upcoming 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights.

The new campaign drew fire Monday from anti-smoking advocates who object to the notion of a tobacco company--which encourages the sale of addictive cigarettes--identifying itself with so powerful a symbol of freedom as the Bill of Rights.

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“It would be humorous if it wasn’t so pathetic,” said John F. Bazhaf III, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, a Washington-based anti-smoking lobby. “The Bill of Rights certainly doesn’t need to be defended by the likes of Philip Morris. It’s ironic that the manufacturer of the only legal product that enslaves most of its users is associating itself with freedom.”

Added Sidney Wolfe, executive director of the Washington-based consumer advocacy group Public Citizen Health Research Corp., “The whole campaign smears the Bill of Rights with the blood of those people who have died from smoking cigarettes.”

Philip Morris officials deny that the ads, which do not include health warnings, promote smoking. “I think that’s a completely unfair criticism,” said Mary Taylor, director of special projects at Philip Morris. “I think most people took the campaign at face value.”

Two of the new campaign’s leading figures said they were happy for the chance to affirm the Bill of Rights and strongly denied that they were supporting Philip Morris’ tobacco products in any way.

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“Nobody could think that without having a wild imagination,” said Notre Dame’s Hesburgh, who spent 15 years as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. “I figured any way I can get a good word in for the Bill of Rights, that’s fine.” Hesburgh said he quit smoking--after 25 years--in 1970, “because I thought it was giving a bad example to my students.”

Perhaps even more outspoken about his role in the ad campaign was Hooks.

“If you really want to see my blood pressure rise, talk to me about the days when Philip Morris would run 100 ads and not include a black,” said Hooks. “Finally, blacks are in ads and people want to know why we’re in them. In this case, black people have always felt the Bill of Rights is important--maybe even more important than the Constitution itself.”

Other spokespersons appearing in the new print campaign include actor Charlton Heston; former Vietnam prisoner of war Everett Alvarez Jr. and New York City Ballet principal dancer Valentina Kozlova.

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The spokespersons are paid an undisclosed amount for their efforts and some have donated their fees to charity, Taylor said.

Hooks--who smokes only on occasion--said he has cut back from the two packs of cigarettes he used to smoke every day. He also said that Philip Morris donated $50,000 to the NAACP last year but that the contribution did not prompt him to appear in the latest campaign.

“The fact that we receive money from a corporation does not cause us to take action in support of them,” he said. “If they’re trying to buy respectability with this campaign, based on the number of calls I’ve received today, they may be wasting millions of dollars.”

Philip Morris Cos. is by far the world’s largest tobacco company. Although it also owns Kraft General Foods and Miller Brewing Co., the bulk of its 1989 profit of $2.9 billion was derived from sales of tobacco products.

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The company--which is mailing out free copies of the Bill of Rights to those who dial a toll-free number--said it has received 2.2 million requests for copies of the document in just six months. The requests mostly were prompted by the television campaign, which was launched last November. That campaign features striking visual glimpses of hallowed American institutions such as churches and courtrooms.


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