California Offensive Will Spend Millions To Target Smoking

State says it will buy advertising on TV to negate tobacco industry's `sexy' images

IN a dramatic escalation of the war on smoking, California this week is launching the largest and one of the most aggressive antismoking campaigns in the world. Armed with millions of dollars from a new cigarette tax, state health officials are taking their pitch everywhere from the classroom to prime-time TV in hopes of getting 1.5 million people to stop smoking by next summer.

The campaign will include some of the usual bromides about the perils of smoking but will also sound a new and more defiant note: that smokers are the dupes of tobacco company advertising.

The tobacco industry is predictably angered, calling the offensive a ``political'' attack and grossly unfair, though it is not yet certain companies will increase advertising to counteract it.

How well this antismoking campaign works will likely determine the direction and tone of future campaigns - and may accelerate the decline of smoking and other tobacco use.

``This is a monumental undertaking,'' says Angela Mickel of Tobacco Free America, an antismoking group not involved in the campaign. ``People are looking to California to see what kind of effect this will have.''

Some $221 million in the campaign will be administered by the state Department of Health Services (DHS) over an 18-month period, ending in June 1991. Funding comes from a portion of a 25-cents-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax approved by voters as Proposition 99 in 1988. Roughly $140 million will go to schools and local health departments for antismoking education. Another $53 million will be funneled to community groups. The rest, $28.6 million, will go for advertising.

The media pitch will dwarf anything like it. The federal government spends less than $1.5 million annually on antismoking advertising. Minnesota, the leader among states conducting campaigns, spends about $1.6 million a year on education and advertising. Many states rely on public service announcements. California officials, however, will buy broadcast time, which means they will control when messages appear and target audiences. Pitches will be aimed mainly at teenagers, pre-teens, minorities, and pregnant women.

``We are inaugurating the most comprehensive, aggressive campaign ever launched,'' says Kenneth Kizer, director of the DHS. He estimates tobacco use costs California $7.1 billion a year, much of it health-care expense. ``It is direct. It is forceful. And, yes, I suspect it will be controversial.''

Organizers say an emphasis is put on reversing the sexy, glamorous image tobacco companies created with decades of advertising. One TV spot depicts a group of tobacco company executives in a smoke-filled room. They are trying to devise a strategy to win over more smokers (``This business needs 3,000 fresh volunteers each day''), despite the known risks. ``Gentlemen, we're not in this business for our health,'' one says at the end.

Another spot portrays the effects of secondhand smoke. It shows a man smoking and a pregnant woman nearby, who is not smoking, exhaling a cloud with each puff he takes. ``This advertising is to make people more aware of tobacco advertising,'' says Paul Keye, an advertising executive who worked on the program.

The tobacco industry is not amused. It says Proposition 99 funds were to be used for antismoking education, which it supports, not for an attack on the industry. They contend cigarette advertising is to get smokers to switch brands, not attract new users. What the state has done is ``get money from the taxpayers for education and divert it to further a political agenda,'' says Thomas Lauria of the Tobacco Institute.

Mr. Lauria says he doubts the industry will counteract with more advertising. State officials say the industry already spends billions each year getting their message out.

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