CALIFORNIA: FACING LAWSUIT, STATE PULLED ANTI- SMOKING ADS
At least twice in the last two years, Gov. Pete Wilson's (R)This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.
administration "backed down from airing sharp-edged television
ads that directly challenge the tobacco industry" after
litigation threats by R.J. Reynolds, LOS ANGELES TIMES reports.
Internal documents obtained by the TIMES show that the
administration "quietly blunted" part of their anti-smoking
campaign by stopping production of one commercial and shelving
another after initial airings "brought threats of a lawsuit from
the nation's second-largest tobacco company." Since 1990, the
state has been running anti-tobacco television ads, a move that
"has won plaudits from anti-smoking organizations," but has been
attacked by the tobacco industry and Republican lawmakers. The
controversy comes as California "prepares to embark" on a new $50
million anti-smoking ad campaign.
ATTACK DOGS: American Heart Association's Mary Adams
contends that "there definitely has been a trend" in the
administration weakening its anti-tobacco efforts, "pointing to
the decision to kill the two ads." Americans for Nonsmokers'
Rights Director Julia Carol said, "Why do they bother spending
taxpayers' money and then cover up the ads? Could it be they're
afraid of the tobacco industry?"
NOT THE CASE: State Department of Health Services Director
Kim Belshe acknowledges that the state did not want to "red flag"
the decision not to air the ads, but said she made the decision
based on "concerns" about Reynolds' lawsuit threats and the
"tone" of the ad which never made it out of production. However,
she also said that the "state is not backing down from what
remains the nation's most aggressive anti-tobacco campaign." She
added that the "characterization that we have backed away is
simply not grounded in reality. ... Look at what we've been
airing." TIMES notes that despite the decision not to use the
two ads, Belshe and other Health Service employees "are convinced
that hard-hitting ads targeting the industry are an especially
effective way to dissuade youths from starting to smoke, and
convince adults to quit." Additionally, for the first time,
Wilson and the Legislature have agreed to "fully fund" the
effort, appropriating $25 million for the campaign in the first
year and about $12 million for each of the following two years.
TOUGH STANCE: One of the controversial ads, "Nicotine
Soundbites," implies that tobacco executives committed perjury
when they told Congress in 1994 that tobacco was not addictive.
The other ad, "Insurance," calls into question the lack of
addictiveness claim, citing two tobacco conglomerates who also
own insurance companies that offer discounts to nonsmokers.
POLITICAL CLIMATE: A public showing of a pirated copy of
"Insurance," which features a room of cigarette-smoking
executives and an employee shredding documents, "seemingly
cemented the state's resolve not to air it." Wilson said, "There
is not a necessity to defame people in order to send a very
strong message to all Californians that smoking is not a good
thing." Belshe also noted, "The department is not going to allow
the political threat implicit in this sort of sensationalist
appeal to public opinion to deter it from basing its decision on
the best interest of the program" (Morain, 8/12).