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Laker, Rapper Team Up to Carry Anti-Smoking Message to Blacks

TIMES HEALTH WRITER

Laker forward Orlando Woolridge and the rap musician Deezer D will help carry the state health department’s anti-smoking message to young blacks in an advertising campaign beginning this week, Dr. Kenneth W. Kizer, state health director, said Monday.

The series of television, radio and billboard advertisements directed at blacks is part of the California Department of Health Services’s $28.6-million anti-smoking media campaign initiated in April to attempt to curb smoking among minorities.

The program, funded by Proposition 99 cigarette tax revenues, has attracted national attention for its provocative advertising designed to counter tobacco-industry ads aimed at vulnerable groups, such as young people and minorities.

The new spots, created by the Los Angeles-based advertising firm of Muse Cordero Chen, attempt to dispel the image that smoking is glamorous, Kizer said at a briefing in Los Angeles.

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In one advertisement that will be posted in bus-stop shelters, a picture of Woolridge dunking a basketball is accompanied by the message, “If you want to smoke on the court . . . don’t smoke off the court!”

In a billboard advertisement slated for predominantly black neighborhoods, a photograph of a coffin carries the headline: “Cigarette Companies Are Making a Killing Off You.”

But the campaign’s heaviest artillery is a rap music video mocking the tobacco industry, starring Deezer D and directed by dancer Debbie Allen.

“The next time you buy a pack, think about my rap. . . . We used to pick it. Now they want us to smoke it. Yeah right, you must be jokin’, " Deezer D exhorts as dancers participate in a mock funeral and choke on cigarette smoke.

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With the exception of some public-service announcements, the spots represent paid advertisement for television and radio audiences statewide. Officials said they hope the rap video receives national exposure on Music Television. The hard-hitting messages are necessary because of the tobacco industry’s practice of targeting minorities in advertising, Kizer said.

“We’re fighting fire with fire,” Kizer said. “There is no doubt that the smoking rate is higher among minorities than it is for whites. This didn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of many years of carefully crafted advertising geared toward blacks and other minorities.”

According to a 1989 surgeon general’s report, minority groups suffer from a disproportionate share of smoking-related, ailments such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary heart disease and cancer. Blacks suffer a lung-cancer rate 58% higher than whites, Kizer said.

While smoking rates for blacks have declined at rates similar to whites, black male smokers still outnumber white male smokers, 41% to 31%. More than 40% of black males over the age of 20 smoke, Kizer said.

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However, tobacco industry officials have repeatedly dismissed the charge that they are targeting their products to specific groups and, Monday, questioned the need for education aimed at a particular group.

“Adults, regardless of race, are capable of making their own decisions,” said Andrew White, a spokesman for the cigarette maker Philip Morris USA. “I think many blacks might take offense at being placed in a protective class simply because some people in state government have taken a paternalistic attitude toward them.”

But Kizer said that the advertising campaign, which is part of a $220-million anti-smoking education program funded by Proposition 99, has received favorable public response, with letters of approval outnumbering criticism 7 to 1.

NEXT STEP

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The California Department of Health and Human Services today will unveil anti-smoking advertisements aimed at Spanish-speaking individuals. Ads targeting Asian-Americans will begin airing later this month.


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