Posted September 2, 2008

Tobacco industry vs. anti-smoking ads

Over the past 40 years, smoking has declined by about half, thanks in part to anti-smoking media campaigns.

But anti-tobacco messages and ads often face fierce opposition from the cigarette manufacturers who have worked vigorously to diminish their impact, according to Jennifer Ibrahim, Ph.D., public health professor at Temple University.

Ibrahim outlines the history of tobacco industry obstacles to anti-smoking campaigns in a chapter she authored in the National Cancer Institute’s new report, “The Role of the Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use.”

Anti-smoking ads began in the late 1960s when the FCC deemed cigarette smoking controversial and therefore subject to the Fairness Doctrine, which requires opening the airwaves to public service messages on opposing viewpoints. The ads were very effective in reducing smoking, despite vigorous counter-advertising by the tobacco companies. (According to a 1972 study, anti-smoking ads cut cigarette smoking by 531 cigarettes per person per year, while tobacco company advertising increased consumption by only 95 cigarettes per person per year.)

But in 1971, when cigarette advertising was banned on radio and TV, the public service airtime required by the Fairness Doctrine ended as well. Public health advocates didn’t have the funding to continue advertising on their own and subsequently, cigarette smoking began to increase. Eventually, anti-smoking efforts moved to the state level, and despite significant funding for these efforts, the tobacco industry spent even more to slow down, reduce and even stop these campaigns.

Ibrahim looked at four case studies closely and found that tobacco industry’s strategies centered on:

Preventing the creation of anti-smoking media campaigns;

  • De-funding media campaigns through efforts such as claims of a fiscal crisis;
  • Weakening the message or limiting the audience of a campaign;
  • And, claiming that tobacco control efforts duplicate the tobacco industry’s own
  • youth smoking prevention programs.

Ibrahim was one of 23 authors who compiled the NCI report, which took four years. They analyzed more than 1,000 scientific studies on the role of media in encouraging and discouraging tobacco use.

“The public has become increasingly aware of the dangers of smoking as well as the deceptive practices of the tobacco industry,” said Ibrahim. “Vigilance is important though, because the tobacco industry will continue to adapt marketing efforts to overcome anti-smoking efforts.”

Currently, one in five Americans still smoke and each day, more than 4,000 children and teens in the U.S smoke their first cigarette.

Read the full report: