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Channel 2 Stops Airing Anti-Smoking Ad

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On the heels of CBS’ decision to cancel a controversial “60 Minutes” interview with a tobacco industry executive, the network-owned affiliate in Los Angeles has killed a tough-edged state-sponsored anti-smoking commercial it had run for five weeks.

KCBS, the Los Angeles affiliate, spiked the commercial titled “Hooked.” In it, an actor wearing a business suit is fishing alone from the end of a dock. As he pulls fish after fish from the water, a narrator describes how nicotine in cigarettes makes them addictive. The spot, which is aimed at teen-agers, ends with a close-up of the man’s darkened teeth.

“We’re disappointed and troubled by the decision,” said Kim Belshe, director of the state Department of Health Services, which sponsored the ad as part of its anti-tobacco campaign.

KCBS had run the commercial during broadcasts of “Hard Copy.”

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Belshe said that no other stations in the state have complained about the ad and that it will continue to air for another week, including on several other Los Angeles stations.

Sybil MacDonald, spokeswoman for KCBS, said the station on its own re-evaluated the spot. Station executives decided to kill the commercial Wednesday after concluding that there was a problem with one line: “The more nicotine cigarettes have, the more hooked you’ll be.”

“Management felt this implied [nicotine] spiking, which has been an extremely contentious issue,” MacDonald said, adding that the station’s decision was not the result of outside pressure.

Cigarette companies contend that nicotine is not addictive, despite what Belshe calls the “tons of evidence” produced by scientists showing that it is.

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KCBS’ decision comes as the tobacco industry has become increasingly combative. In August, ABC settled a libel suit by tobacco giant Philip Morris by airing an apology for claiming in one of its news segments that companies manipulated, or spiked, nicotine levels in cigarettes.

This week, CBS attracted attention when network attorneys prevailed in stopping a segment from airing this Sunday on “60 Minutes.” The television show had planned to run an interview with an unnamed former Brown & Williamson tobacco executive critical of the industry.

CBS’ legal department believed that by airing the segment, the network might be liable for violating an agreement between Brown & Williamson and the anonymous former employee that he not discuss internal company matters.

In Los Angeles, MacDonald said the decision to cease airing the “Hooked” ad had nothing to do with the “60 Minutes” action by CBS in New York.

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“It was an internal decision,” MacDonald said, adding that the station will continue to broadcast two less hard-edged spots that are part of the state anti-tobacco advertising campaign paid for by Proposition 99 funds.

Belshe called KCBS’ timing “curious.” Bruce Silverman, president of Asher/Gould, the Los Angeles advertising firm that created the commercial, said, “I find it suspiciously coincidental.”

Silverman said KCBS sales manager John McKay gave him the final decision Friday, explaining that the spot implies tobacco industry officials know that the more nicotine there is in a cigarette, the better the chance they have of hooking young users.

Silverman and Belshe said their tests show the commercial had high impact with their target audience, teen-agers, the one segment of society in which tobacco use is increasing.

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