Philip Morris Cos. should dump its anti-smoking commercials and give the money instead to an independent group to run harder-edged ads aimed at youngsters, critics say.
But Philip Morris, the world’s biggest tobacco company, said it will continue making its own ads.
The critics, representing public health officials from 17 states and the American Cancer Society, said Wednesday that the “Think. Don’t Smoke” ads are not strong enough to persuade youngsters most at risk of starting smoking to decide against the habit.
Some critics said the campaign is diluting the impact of stronger commercials such as one from California created by Los Angeles-based Asher & Partners that shows a smoker inhaling a cigarette through a hole in her throat.
Gregory Connolly, director of the Massachusetts Health Department’s tobacco control program, said he worries the Philip Morris approach “could persuade policymakers not to run the hard-hitting stuff” as decisions are being made on a $1.45-billion national anti-smoking campaign expected to begin later this year.
Philip Morris said in December that it would spend more than $100 million a year on a campaign to discourage youngsters from smoking. About 70% of the first year’s budget was earmarked for anti-smoking advertising, created by New York-based Young & Rubicam. The ads showed groups of youngsters on the bus, at school and on a stairway outdoors talking about why they choose not to smoke. “I don’t need to smoke to prove myself,” a girl says in one ad. “My coolness is not on trial here.” A boy in another ad says, “We don’t have to smoke to be different. Being ourselves is enough.”
Ellen Merlo, a spokeswoman for Philip Morris USA, said the company feels the “peer pressure message is one that is valid in reaching this group. “We don’t think there is any one single approach, and we believe the approach that we have taken to the issue is a valid and worthwhile way of communicating this issue,” Merlo said.
But a new study conducted on behalf of three states that have been running their own anti-smoking campaigns suggested that youngsters find the Philip Morris ads less compelling than ads from the states that often have graphic depictions of the consequences of smoking.
Among the ads shown to about 120 youngsters in 20 different groups was a California commercial that showed a woman smoking a cigarette through a hole in her throat and a Massachusetts ad that showed an actor who once played the Marlboro Man as he lay dying of cancer.
The authors of the study, Teenage Research Unlimited, said teens rated the two ads from Philip Morris and a third ad from Arizona called “I Decide” among the lowest in each group. It said some teens said the ad using the choice theme failed to give them any good reasons not to smoke.