Legacy, Philip Morris Spar | Adweek
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Legacy, Philip Morris Spar

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CHICAGO In an ironic twist, the American Legacy Foundation has called on tobacco companies to pull their parent-targeted anti-smoking ads, at least in part because an upcoming study in the December issue of the American Journal of Public Health suggests that cigarette manufacturers' spots actually increase the likelihood that teens will smoke in the future.

Philip Morris USA, however, the only tobacco company currently on air with youth-focused anti-smoking ads, refutes the study's findings and contends that its initiative for encouraging parents to discuss smoking with the children (themed "Talk. They'll listen") is attaining its goals.

"The tobacco industry ads are a trick on young people," said Legacy CEO Cheryl Healton, in a statement. "By creating these ads, the industry claims to be trying to help our nation's youth and acts as if these ads are truly aimed at discouraging smoking. However, this study, along with previous research proves that this is simply not the case. The tobacco industry is in the business of selling cigarettes. What does help discourage youth smoking rates are ads and messages provided by sources that are independent of the tobacco industry."

Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell said he would meet with other AGs to determine if tobacco-industry prevention ads violate the prohibition on youth marketing.

"The reason we focus on parents in our overall prevention approach is that many experts, including the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, state that parents are the single most important influence on children's decision as to whether to smoke, drink or use drugs," said Dave Sutton, a Philip Morris representative. "[Our] goal in this area is to have an effective youth smoking prevention program and to that end we believe in collaborative dialogue with the public health community to help identify any potential improvements to our youth smoking prevention communications. The campaign is directed at parents because that is what experts tell us is the most effective way."

Philip Morris, which markets the Marlboro brand, began airing its "Think. Don't smoke" campaign in 1998 after cigarette marketers participating in the Master Settlement Agreement were required to develop materials designed to reduce smoking among minors. The company bowed ads themed "Talk. They'll listen" in 1999.

The new study found a correlation between increased exposure to tobacco company parent-targeted ads and lower recall of anti-tobacco messages and stronger intentions to smoke among all students. The study did not, however, find a link between increased exposure to the tobacco companies' youth-targeted smoking prevention initiatives and smoking behavior among American youths.

According to the study, "The overt message of the parent-targeted campaign is that parents should talk to their children about smoking, but no reason beyond simply being a teenager is offered as to why youths should not smoke." This is a flawed approach, because, "Theories in developmental psychology suggest that authority messages specific to teenagers invite rejection by those who have migrated to a dominant peer group orientation. They are more inclined to perceive themselves as independent and self-reliant and less likely to report that they rely on their parents for guidance or assistance."

The study's principal author is Melanie Wakefield of the Center for Behavioral Research in Cancer of the Cancer Council in Melbourne, Australia. The study combines Nielsen Media Research data about tobacco company smoking ads (airing in the U.S. from 1999-2002) with separate surveys of 12-17-year-old students.

The students answered questions concerning their recall of anti-tobacco ads and their general attitudes about smoking.

The study's official title is "The Effect of Televised, Tobacco Company-Funded Smoking Prevention Advertising on Youth Smoking-Related Beliefs, Intentions and Behavior."

Havas' Arnold in Boston and MDC Partners' Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Miami are the principal architects of Legacy's "Truth" anti-smoking advertising campaign.