Body bags enliven anti-smoking ad for teens
WASHINGTON - An anti-smoking campaign aimed at America's teens went to a busy downtown corner in the nation's capital Thursday with a message and a stack of 1,200 body bags.
Sean Vassar looks at the Tobacco Memorial in downtown Washington. The memorial, established by the Truth Campaign, features 1,200 body bags to represent the number of people the organization claims dies daily from tobacco.Filled with rags and recycled paper, the bags are props for a hard-hitting, 30-second TV commercial that was being filmed for broadcast this fall on stations with large, youthful audiences.
''The bags symbolize the 1,200 people who die daily from tobacco-related illnesses,'' said Mitch Zeller, executive vice president of the American Legacy Foundation, sponsor of the anti-smoking campaign. ''We're talking about a deadly addictive product.''
The ad is one of a series of commercials the foundation has produced and paid to have broadcast.
The bags, put in a corner of an empty lot leased for 30 days, may become a more lasting memorial to victims when the filming is done. Foundation supporters and dozens of teens in a foundation-backed group called ''truth'' will formally dedicate the site today.
''What better place to have such a memorial than in a city like Washington, which is filled with monuments?'' asked Zeller.
The foundation will ask officials for a six-month permit to use the location as a memorial.
Thursday, the lot swarmed with teens who dragged the black rubbery bags from a truck and tossed them into a pile more than 10 feet high.
''We're making a statement,'' said Niki Voelkel, an 18-year-old from Arizona, who helped place the bags. ''This is a wake-up call about the dangers of smoking.''
Lavale Lassiter, a 19-year-old New Yorker, gave up smoking recently and decided to get involved.
''I was having trouble breathing, and I was becoming addicted,'' he said.
The foundation is a product of the $206 billion settlement with the tobacco industry two years ago. About $1.5 billion of the money was earmarked for an anti-smoking program aimed at teens run by the newly organized group. The money, to be paid over 10 years, will underwrite a range of efforts, including the ads, studying trends in smoking and studying why teens smoke.
Zeller said the in-your-face messages work best to convince young audiences.
''Teenagers have a sense of immortality,'' he said. ''They think the dangers don't apply to them. The body bags are designed to break through that kind of mindset.''
Earlier this year, the foundation pulled two of its ads following objections from the industry and the North Carolina attorney general. They charged the messages were unfair ''vilifications'' of the industry.
One of the ads showed the Philip Morris headquarters in New York surrounded by hundreds of body bags. The ads have since been returned for limited broadcast.
Brendan McCormick, a Philip Morris spokesman, said, ''We agree that more should be done to reduce the incidence of youths smoking and agree that the public should be informed about health risks.
''We don't think, however, the ads have been accurate about what we're all about as a company.''