Laffin Makes Posthumous Appeal

Pam Laffin earned minor cult status in Massachusetts in the 1990s after appearing in a series of anti-smoking ads for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Now, she appears posthumously in a breaking DPH effort questioning the “good deeds” claims made by tobacco companies in their own ads.

Laffin died last year at age 31 from emphysema. She attributed her health problems to smoking cigarettes, a habit she began at age 10.

The DPH’s TV and print campaign, crafted by its long-time agency Arnold, Boston, is running for the next few weeks.

The idea of placing images of Laffin in new ads arose from reactions to Philip Morris’ series of spots in which the company touts its social contributions, such as feeding hungry people and funding programs to combat domestic violence, said Arnold creative director Pete Favat. Such efforts, Favat said, are merely attempts to buy public complacency.

“That’s great that they’re helping battered and abused women,” said Favat. who directed the commercials. “When are they going to help the victims they’ve created?”

DPH ads include a revised spot from 1998 with added news footage about Laffin’s death, plus three new commercials featuring voiceovers from actress Mary Steenburgen.

Tom Ryan, a spokesman for Philip Morris, had not seen the spots, but he stressed the company’s commitment to community concerns, including initiatives to discourage kids from smoking. “It’s not just about what we’re not doing, but what we are doing,” he said. “We believe it is an adult’s decision to smoke or not to smoke.”

In one spot, Steenburgen says, “the tobacco industry says they’ve been helping women who are victims of abuse. But they didn’t do a thing to help save Pam Laffin.” In another, she says, “The tobacco industry has been running commercials that say they’re working to make a difference in people’s lives. Just look at the difference they made in Pam’s.” Ads are tagged with the DPH’s familiar “Make Smoking History” line.