Philip Morris has adopted the role of good citizen these days. Its Web site brims with information on the dangers of smoking, and it has mounted a campaign of television spots that urge parents, oh so earnestly, to warn their children against smoking. That follows an earlier $100 million campaign warning young people to “Think. Don’t Smoke,” analogous to the “just say no” admonitions against drugs.
All this seems to fly against the economic interests of the company, which presumably depends on a continuing crop of new smokers to replace those who drop out or die from their habit. But in practice, it turns out, these industry-run campaigns are notably ineffective and possibly even a sham. New research shows that the ads aimed at youths had no discernible effect in discouraging smoking and that the ads currently aimed at parents may be counterproductive.
…The most exhaustive judicial analysis of the industry’s tactics, by Judge Gladys Kessler of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, concluded that the youth smoking prevention programs were not really designed to effectively prevent youth smoking but rather to head off a government crackdown. They are minimally financed compared with the vast sums spent on cigarette marketing and promotion; they are understaffed and run by people with no expertise; and they ignore the strategies that have proved effective in preventing adolescent smoking. The television ads, for example, do not stress the deadly and addictive impacts of smoking, an emphasis that has been shown to work in other antitobacco campaigns.