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.
Along the highways of America you no longer see billboards advertising cigarettes. Their place has been taken by posters aimed at teenagers publicising the dangers of smoking.
But these adverts haven't been posted by health professionals or anti-tobacco activists. They've been put up by the cigarette manufacturers themselves.
It's the latest move in a lengthy legal and PR battle between the smoking and anti-smoking lobby in North America.
A battle which has seen Philip Morris, America's largest cigarette makers, also halting advertising cigarette ads in magazines which are popular with young people.
First the PR battle. Cigarette companies in the USA are keen to avoid going down the Canadian route of stronger statutory labelling on cigarette packets.
From January, new regulations in Canada will require that graphic health warnings cover the top half of the fronts and backs of tobacco product packs.
They will feature a text warning - like ``Cigarettes Cause Mouth Disease'' - alongside a graph or photo, for example of rotten gums and stained teeth.
``Cigarettes may cause sexual impotence due to decreased blood flow to the penis. This can prevent you from having an erection.'' is another of the 16 different warnings.
Next to the warning is a picture of a drooping cigarette.
It's estimated that 400,000 Americans die each year through smoking related diseases.
Then there's the legal battle. For several years the tobacco companies have been pursued in the courts. In July 2000 a Miami court awarded a record $145 billion in damages against American tobacco companies. Although this is expected to be reduced on appeal it comes only two years after they agreed to pay US$10 billion a year to help compensate State Legislatures against the costs of providing health care to smokers. They also agreed to a ban on all outdoor advertising of tobacco products.
BACK FROM THE BRINK
It's estimated that 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 Banty - lucky to be alive
Since his life saving operation, where a chunk 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.'
But the prospect of contracting lung cancer doesn't worry eighteen year old Patrick.
He says he has been smoking for over 5 years and is convinced that he will have the will power to quit by the time he is thirty. Taking a drag on a cigarette he laughs out loud when asked why anti-smoking ads don't appear to be changing his behaviour.
18 years old and
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. A lot of people think, 'we'll just tell these kids how bad it is for you' but it's not as easy as that. Kids are going to smoke as long as there are cigarettes."
The campaigns produced by the tobacco companies have been heavily criticised by anti-smoking activists. As an estimated 3000 teenagers start smoking in the US every day, groups such as Tobacco Free Kids criticise initiatives such as Philip Morris's 'Think. Don't Smoke' campaign.
Counter-ads from the
They point to research which shows it is one of the least effective health education initiatives ever produced for teenagers in the United States.
Governments are not saying they want a tobacco-free society. WHO are saying that
Donald Harris, Philip Morris' International Spokesman
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", he says. "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."
Mr Harris 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, Philip Morris's position, he argues, is close to that held by many Governments around the world. He adds, 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."