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Tobacco companies tell kids: 'Don't smoke!'

It sounds like the biggest contradiction but cigarette companies in America are spending millions of dollars on anti-smoking advertising.

Some 3000 teenagers start smoking in the US every day

Billbords dotting the highways of America now publicise the dangers of smoking.

These adverts have not been posted by health professionals or anti-tobacco activists. They've been put up by the cigarette manufacturers themselves.


Making people aware of the risks involved in smoking cigarettes is the latest move in a legal and PR battle between the smoking and anti-smoking lobby in the US.

A battle which has seen America's biggest cigarette makers restricting tobacco ads in youth magazines.

Despite this, cigarette companies in the US are keen to avoid going down the Canadian route of stronger statutory labelling on cigarette packets.

Promoting tobacco in youth magazines


Canada implemented its strong labelling in June 2000. Regulations there require that graphic health warnings cover the top half of the fronts and backs of cigarette packs.

The packs feature one of 16 written warnings. One of these states, 'Cigarettes Cause Mouth Disease.' The caption is bolstered by a photograph of a person's rotten gums and stained teeth.

Another pack states, 'Tobacco Use Can Make You Impotent. Cigarettes may cause sexual impotence due to decreased blood flow to the penis. This can prevent you from having an erection'. Next to the warning is a picture of a drooping cigarette.

An estimated 400,000 Americans die each year through smoking related diseases.


Then there are the legal battles. For several years the tobacco companies have been pursued in the courts.

In June 2002, the US tobacco giant RJ Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc, was fined $20m for breaking a 1998 agreement between tobacco companies and 46 states, which restricts targeting youth in its tobacco advertisements.

A San Diego court ruled that the company, which makes Camel and Winston cigarettes, had placed advertisements in youth magazines.

One month earlier, RJ Reynolds was fined $15m by a court in Los Angeles for handing out free cigarettes at events attended by children. The court ruled that the company had breached a law banning the handing out of free cigarettes in public places.


Further more, in a landmark case in June 2001, a Los Angeles jury ordered the Philip Morris tobacco company to pay more than $3bn to Richard Boeken, a smoker suffering from terminal cancer.

He began smoking Marlboro cigarettes at the age of 13 and accused the company of six counts of fraud, conspiracy and negligence, claiming it had concealed the health risks of cigarettes.

But Mr Boeken, who won the largest ever individual award ever imposed on a cigarette manufacturer, died in January 2002 of lung cancer, before receiving any compensation.

In a separate case, in July 2000 a jury in Florida awarded a record $145 billion in damages against American tobacco companies.

Although the case, which represents a large group of smokers in Florida, is pending a review, it comes only two years after the companies agreed to pay US$10 billion a year to help compensate State Legislatures against the costs of providing health care to smokers.


An estimated 400,000 Americans die each year through smoking related diseases. Health care, although costly, can save lives. William Banty is one of the lucky ones.

His doctors diagnosed lung cancer after a routine health check and operated immediately.

Mr Banty, 48, started smoking when he was a teenager. "It was just something that you did. Everyone smoked, your parents, aunts and uncles, friends. You were the odd one out if you didn't have a cigarette in your hand.'

William Banta
Click to listen to William Banta
William Banty - lucky to be alive

Since his life saving operation, where a part of his lung was removed, he hasn't touched a cigarette.

'If you want kids to stop smoking take them to my ward where people were dying, screaming and yelling in pain. That will soon stop you smoking.'


The prospect of contracting lung cancer doesn't worry 18 year old Patrick.

He says he has been smoking for over five years and is convinced that he will have the will power to quit by the time he is 30. He inhales and laughs out loud when asked why anti-smoking ads don't appear to be changing his behaviour.

Smoking 20 cigarettes a day
"The only way that you are ever going to stop people smoking, whether they are 12 or 50, is not to make cigarettes. It's as simple as that. Kids are going to smoke as long as there are cigarettes."


An estimated 3,000 teenagers start smoking in the US every day.

The campaigns produced by the tobacco companies have been heavily criticised by anti-smoking activists. Groups such as Tobacco Free Kids criticise initiatives such as Philip Morris's 'Think. Don't Smoke' campaign.

Philip Morris Generation
According to the anti-smoking lobby, this programme is one of the least effective health education initiatives ever produced for teenagers in the US.

Governments are not saying they want a tobacco-free society. WHO are saying that
Click to listen to Donald Harris
Donald Harris, Philip Morris' International Spokesman

In their defence, Philip Morris deny that their commitment to anti-smoking campaigns is half hearted.

Donald Harris, Vice President, International Corporate Affairs, points to the US$100m spent by the company on the "Think. Don't Smoke" campaign.


"Philip Morris does not want children to smoke", Mr Harris asserts. "We work hard, spend money, make a great deal of effort in the places we do business, we encourage staff and support governments to do everything we can to prevent children smoking."

He also points to the health warnings that the company prints on all the packs of cigarettes it sells as proof of the company's commercial responsibility.

On issues such as youth smoking, prevention of contraband, marketing and disclosure of ingredients, Mr Harris argues that the company's position is close to that held by many other governments around the world.

Adding, these governments are not saying they want a tobacco-free society, "the World Health Organisation are saying that. Or has said that.

"We are an international company, we operate in nearly 180 countries and territories. There is a health warning on every packet and every carton of our cigarettes, no matter where they are sold in the world - even where governments don't require it. We want to do the right thing."