Legacy Seeks Out New Backing For Campaign

The national anti-smoking campaign “truth” will cease to exist in five years unless the American Legacy Foundation can overcome two major challenges: Legacy said it must find a way to replace the money the tobacco industry gave to fund the campaign, as well as fend off a lawsuit accusing it of vilifying Big Tobacco in its ads.

According to Legacy, the organization spent nearly $113 million on its hard-hitting “truth” campaign in 2001, but that number dropped to $62 million last year when the tobacco industry stopped paying Legacy to run the public-education effort according to the terms of the Master Settlement Agreement, which created Legacy and the campaign.

Even before the tobacco-industry payments stopped in April of last year, Legacy was saving some of the funds so the campaign could continue. Legacy CEO and president Cheryl Healton said the foundation will spend about $42 million in 2008 and will have no money left to spend on the campaign in 2009. (It will spend about $59 million on it this year.)

“[At that point], I don’t see how we meet the multiprong mandate we have,” said Healton. “If our efforts to replace the money fail, we will end up with ‘truth’ as a state program. Those states that can afford it will get it, and those states that can’t won’t.”

Under the terms of the MSA, Legacy is not allowed to lobby Congress for money through legislation. One option under consideration is to create a coalition of media- buying nonprofits that could negotiate a better advertising rate with the networks, according to Legacy.

CBS and Fox declined comment. ABC and NBC were not available for comment.

Legacy has also put two other programs in place to help fund the campaign. One seeks to develop strategic partnerships with companies on tobacco-related issues. (So far, a deal with cosmetic company Avon, which sells a line of jewelry for Legacy, has raised $564,000.) A second strategy is to get judges to award damage claims from tobacco cases to Legacy to continue the anti-smoking campaign.

Legacy must also prevail in the now-2-year-old lawsuit filed by Lorillard Tobacco Co., or it will no longer be able to produce edgy, hard-hitting ads. Lorillard first objected to a Legacy radio spot that said Lorillard uses dog urine in its cigarettes. Although Lorillard has said the ad is untruthful, it has since claimed in a June 14 court hearing that it will not argue whether the ad is truthful as part of its legal strategy to win the case.

“We do believe the ad is untruthful, but it has nothing to do with the basis of the suit,” said Lorillard vp and general counsel Ronald Milstein. “This is not a free-speech question. This is a breach-of-contract case. They have not followed the rules, and we have a right to seek relief.”

“What concerns me is that we will not be able to tell young people the truth if it happens to be unflattering,” Healton said. “What’s next … public-health campaigns about youth obesity that can’t disclose the calories in an average fast-food meal?”

Legacy’s most recent effort, “Seek truth,” by Havas’ Arnold in Boston and MDC Partners’ Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Miami, ridicules Big Tobacco’s marketing practices via ads that show teens with their eyes, ears and mouths sewn shut with sutures.

“If [an ad] is true, even though it hurts, that is not vilification,” said Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell, who sits on Legacy’s board. “Lorillard is trying to defang the ‘truth’ campaign.”