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Tobacco Companies' 'International Marketing Standards' Represent Another Cynical Effort to Avoid Real Change

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
August 15, 2001

Washington, DC — Advertising Age and several other media outlets are reporting that Philip Morris, British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco are working to develop standard guidelines for how they market their products around the world. The reported standards are a shameless sham. They are pathetically weak and represent another cynical effort by the tobacco industry to present ineffective alternatives when faced with the threat of real change through government regulation of its deadly products. Even if adopted, this proposal would not result in any real change in tobacco advertising.

The public should not be fooled. The tobacco industry has long had a voluntary advertising code that had no teeth and no impact. This one is no different. Like other industry-backed proposals, these standards are designed to create the illusion of change, while allowing the industry to continue with business as usual.

The marketing standards being discussed do not deserve to be taken seriously and are especially inadequate in comparison to the total ban on tobacco advertising and marketing being proposed by many nations. They even fall short of the weak voluntary restrictions that tobacco companies have been willing to accept in the United States and other countries. For example, the tobacco companies propose to cease advertising in publications with greater than 25 percent youth readership, when in fact several companies have already stopped advertising in U.S. publications with greater than 15 percent youth readership. The restrictions on outdoor advertising fall far short of what is required in the United States, and the provisions governing television advertising represent a stunning reversal of the long accepted prohibition of all television tobacco advertising. Furthermore, these standards would not affect some of the largest categories of industry marketing, such as promotional allowances for shelf space and product placement, discounts, giveaways and point-of-purchase advertising.

History also tells us that the tobacco industry cannot be trusted when it says it will stop marketing to kids. The most recent example is the November 1998 state tobacco settlement in which the U.S. tobacco companies promised not to 'take any action, directly or indirectly, to target youth … in the advertising, promotion or marketing of tobacco products.' Rather than reducing their marketing expenditures, the tobacco companies just one year later spent a record $8.24 billion to market their deadly products, an increase of 22.3 percent, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Studies have shown that much of this increase was in venues effective at reaching kids, including youth-oriented magazines and convenience stores frequented by youth.

It is no coincidence that the industry's latest public relations initiative is being launched as the world's nations negotiate the first international tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and a growing number of countries around the world take action to regulate the manufacture, marketing and sale of tobacco products. These regulatory efforts, if strong, comprehensive and aggressively implemented, offer real hope of reducing the global toll of tobacco-caused death and disease. Already, four million people a year die from tobacco worldwide, and unless effective action is taken, that death rate will rise to 10 million a year by 2020. The tobacco industry's latest PR effort is aimed at blocking the effective action we need.

In fact, the tobacco industry's so-called marketing standards are cut from the same strategic cloth as Philip Morris' recent report in the Czech Republic touting the 'positive effects' of early smoking deaths for government budgets. These efforts are part of a consistent industry strategy to say and do whatever it takes to head off real change.