TO hear tobacco-industry executives tell it, cigarette advertising doesn't influence children and teenagers to smoke. Never mind that Old Joe the camel is almost as well known to children as Mickey Mouse. If young people smoke, the Tobacco Institute argues, their decision stems from "negative peer pressure and the influence of the family," which it claims "are the main reasons kids smoke."
As a way of encouraging parents to help children "decide not to smoke," the Tobacco Institute has prepared two public-service announcements and a booklet for parents. One ad says, "Parents can do more than anyone to build [children's] confidence - and make sure they don't smoke."
Parents do play a central role in shaping children's values. But the industry's approach is disingenuous, as if parents, not tobacco advertisers, bear the blame if young people smoke.
Similar dissembling exists in the alcohol industry. On the positive side, Anheuser-Busch says it spends $20 million a year to promote responsible use of alcohol. One of its programs, "Family Talk About Drinking," encourages parents to talk with children about alcohol. Yet Surgeon General Antonio Novello has reiterated an earlier request that the industry stop appealing to young people in its ads.
Initiatives to discourage youthful smoking and drinking have merit. But a few public-service spots on TV can never counter the powerful effects of paid ads. If the tobacco industry is serious, it can retire Old Joe. And if the alcohol industry wants to make "family talk" about drinking easier, it will listen to Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) of South Carolina: "Alcohol advertising links alcohol with precisely those attributes and qualities - happiness, success, ... athletic ability - that alcohol abuse dims and
Teenagers need help in resisting these enslaving tempters. The family remains their first and best line of defense, but alcohol and tobacco companies must do more than offer booklets and slogans.