California launches anti-smoking ad campaign


SACRAMENTO -- California unveiled a humorous, scathing and unprecedented series of ads aimed at getting people to stop smoking, a program paid for by smokers through a 25-cent-a-pack tax and attacked by the tobacco industry as unfair.

'It's a combination of a health message along with painting the tobacco companies as the enemy,' said Timothy O'Mara of the advertising firm of keye/donna/pearlstein, which helped create the $28.6 million campaign for the state Department of Health Services.


Aimed particularly at young people, pregnant women and minorities, the radio, television and newspaper ads were to begin appearing Wednesday.

The ads use humor and poignancy to get across the dangers of smoking, but also attack the tobacco industry.

One TV commercial portrays tobacco companies as cynical about the health effects of their products.

It depicts a smoke-filled board room in which an executive tells his colleagues they should forget about heart and lung disease caused by smoking.

The executive says, 'We're not in this business for our health,' and everyone emits a diabolical laugh.

The campaign is a result of Proposition 99, which was passed in 1988 and levied the special tobacco tax. The tobacco industry spent more than $20 million in an unsuccessful campaign to defeat the measure, which was financed by the medical profession.


Thomas Lauria, a spokesman for the Tobacco Institute, said the industry was dismayed by the campaign, which he said puts tobacco companies on an 'uneven playing field' since they have not been allowed to advertise directly on television since 1971.

He called the ads 'alarmist' and said thy have little to do with the education program in schools that voters thought they would get when they approved Proposition 99.

The 15-month advertising campaign is aimed at cutting smoking by 20 percent in California, where health officials say smoking-related disease kills 30,000 people a year and costs $7.1 billion a year in health-care and lost productivity.

A series of radio ads features stand-up comedians recruited from comedy clubs with sometimes biting jokes about smokers. One comedian says, 'You know, people who are addicted to drugs are called dope heads. Why aren't smokers called butt heads?'

Television ads, aimed at Asians, Hispanics and blacks and created by minority ad agencies, show a man lighting up a cigarette, filling up the room with smoke and causing his pregnant wife or child to start coughing.

One ad depicts black rap musician Deezer D singing the lyrics, 'We used to pick it, and now they want us to smoke it.'


Proposition 99 requires that 2 percent of the money raised from the tax be used for education about the dangers of smoking. The remainder, about $1.9 billion through June 1991, is to go for health care.

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