Anti-smoking ads that reveal the tobacco industry's deceptive practices have been aggressively quashed through various methods found Temple University Assistant Professor Jennifer K. Ibrahim, co-author of an analysis in the August issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
In the article, Ibrahim tracks the rise and fall of state and national efforts to curb smoking for the past 40 years. She chronicles industry strategies to prevent a campaign's creation, steer messages to smaller audiences, limit the content of the message, limit or eliminate the campaign's funding, and pursue litigation against the campaign. Ibrahim looks at campaigns in Minnesota, California, Arizona, Oregon, Florida, and a national campaign from the American Legacy Foundation.
"It tells the story behind the smoke. People often judge these ads and now you know what the tobacco industry was doing trying to undermine them," Ibrahim said.
Research has found ads that reveal the deceptive practices of the tobacco industry are the most effective media campaigns that reduce smoking rates, she said.
For example, one billboard in California read "Tobacco is legal, profitable, and kills people" featuring an alligator labeled big tobacco with a smirk saying "Two out of three's not bad."
However, these messages aren't always getting out there because of the money spent by the tobacco industry to eliminate them, said Ibrahim, an assistant professor of public health.
State health departments face an uphill battle when dealing with the political clout of the industry with its lobbying, campaign contributions and specials events, Ibrahim said.
One tactic also involves the industry producing its own ineffective campaigns in order to portray state programs as duplicative and a waste of public dollars. Campaigns designed by the tobacco companies patronize youth in their early teen years, with messages like "Think, Don't smoke", Ibrahim said.
In contrast, Florida's "truth" anti-smoking campaign empowered them by giving them information about how the tobacco industry tried to manipulate by marketing.
The tobacco industry has spent more money in advertising in light of successful media campaigns that target large audiences.
From 1975 to 2003, tobacco industry expenditures in advertising and promotion grew from $491 million to $15.5 billion. During this period, the percentage of smokers in the United States fell from about 37 percent to 22 percent, according to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
Attitudes are changing as the public is becoming more aware about the dangers of smoking, secondhand smoke, and the deceptive practices of the industry, Ibrahim said.
While the numbers offer some promise, more initiatives are needed to keep anti-smoking efforts alive.
"It's naïve to think the industry is still not following these practices and preparing tactics to respond," Ibrahim said.
The Master Settlement Agreement in 1998 marked an important step when seven tobacco companies agreed to change the way tobacco products are marketed, release previously secret industry documents, dispand trade groups, and pay the states an estimated $206 billion. The tobacco companies also agreed to finance a $1.5 billion public anti-smoking campaign.
States' attorney generals continue to enforce the provisions of the agreement, Ibrahim said.
A recent product that has created uproar is Camel's No. 9s pink cigarettes that public health advocates say target teenage girls not women. In June, congress sent a letter to the editors of 11 major magazines, from Glamour to Cosmopolitan, requesting them to stop running the ads for the cigarettes.
Aggressive efforts to battle current marketing efforts and litigation from the tobacco industry are vital to keep the best media campaigns from disappearing, Ibrahim said.
"The efforts put forth by California and the American Legacy Foundation as they pursued legal battles with tobacco companies provide a good example of the tenacity needed to successfully defend and promote tobacco control campaigns," said Ibrahim. "Persistence can pay off. We need to go with campaigns that work,"
The research was funded by the National Cancer Institute. For the article, Ibrahim collected the data, conducted the analysis, and drafted the article. Co-author Stanton A. Glantz from the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, supervised the data collection, edited and revised the article.