California, Big Tobacco Thrust and Parry

LOS ANGELES A week after two of the nation’s largest cigarette manufacturers filed a lawsuit against California to stop state-sponsored ads that they claim vilify the tobacco industry, the California Department of Health Services has unveiled new anti-tobacco television spots.

The spots are the next phase in the state’s tobacco education campaign targeting Big Tobacco. The campaign will be backed by a $22 million media buy this fiscal year, said client representative Ken August.

Three of the ads, created by Ground Zero in Marina del Rey, Calif., focus on the industry’s marketing tactics. A fourth spot, from independent contractor Paul Keye, targets social smokers.

Tagged “Do you smell smoke?” the ads from Ground Zero continue to use a fictional character named “Ken Lane,” who is a marketing executive at a tobacco company. One ad shows Lane at a club where cigarettes are being handed out for free. He notes that the bar is a “breeding ground” for new smokers, and laughs at the “social smoker” who in a few years may have a pack-a-day habit. A second spot tackles the tobacco industry’s teen prevention ad campaign, claiming that any ads that tell teens what not to do will likely have the opposite effect. The third ad attempts to debunk the notion that light cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes.

The spot from Keye has a black screen with smoke drifting across it, along with voiceovers from people who say they are not smokers because they only smoke during a coffee break at work or at a club or on a date. Onscreen copy is: “Admit it. If you smoke, you’re a smoker.”

“The mantra is to push the issue forward, and judge things not just by how breakthrough they are, but by whether they give people info they don’t have,” said Ground Zero creative partner Court Crandall.

Last Tuesday, R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorrilard Tobacco Co. filed a lawsuit in Sacramento federal court seeking an injunction to halt some of the advertising born out of California’s Prop 99, which imposes a 25-cent tax on each pack of cigarettes sold in the state. The suit alleges misuse of those tax dollars and claims that the state is using the money to attack legitimate businesses and their employees rather than to provide tobacco-related health education.

“We in California are putting the tobacco industry on notice,” said Gov. Gray Davis, in a statement. “We are not about to back down. If Big Tobacco wants a fight, I say bring it on.”

The state has 20 days from the date that the suit was filed to respond. In addition to seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the ads from running, R.J. Reynolds and Lorrilard are seeking a permanent injunction to stop the ads from airing until all pending tobacco litigation has been settled. The companies are also asking for the opportunity to see and comment on future ads before they air.