The Federal Trade Commission today called for federally funded advertising to educate the public about the health dangers of cigarette smoking.
The commission proposed a two-part program that would include mass media antismoking advertising, and a system of alternating several different health warnings on individual cigarette packages.
Pointing out that the tobacco industry spent a record $875 million to advertise cigarettes last year, the FTC said a new survey shows the public is still relatively uninformed about the dangers of smoking.
The American public bought 615.3 million cigarettes last year, the FTC noted. Although the agency called that number an "all-time high," industry figures from the Tobacco Institute contradict that claim. The institute reported a slight drop in total sales from 1977 to 1978.
The FTC did note that there had been a slight decline in per capita consumption -- down to 3,965 cigarettes per adult from the previous year's 4,015.
As part of its report, which the commission must make annually to Congress under the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, the commission specifically recommended use of rotational warning labels, similar to a 2-year-old system in Sweden. That involves use of 16 different warning labels interchangeably.
Such a system, the FTC said, would provide more information and bring "home to each potential consumer just how smoking can harm him or her."
The commission also renewed earlier recommendations that cigarette manufacturers be forced to declare tar and nicotine content on all packages and in all advertising.
The study pointed out that after cigarette advertising was banned from the electronic media in 1970, public service announcements about the dangers of cigarette smoking have been "sporadic and localized, although the cigarette industry has found other ways to effectively spend their advertising dollars."
That advertising spending has grown enormously in recent years, the FTC report noted. In 1975, the industry spent $491 million on advertising and promotion. That figure has risen at a rate of more than $100 million a year since, the report shows.
Also included in the report is a 1978 survey of public attitudes toward smoking conducted for the Tobacco Institute by the Roper Organization.
"Generally, although substantial progress has been made in informing the public, and the desire to quit is fairly high, the answers (in the survey) . . . strongly suggest that the public is still inadequately aware of the magnitude of the dangers posed by cigarette smoking," the FTC report stated. m
"For example," the report said, "those who believe that only heavy smoking is hazardous comprise 31 percent of those surveyed and fully 40 percent of smokers.
"A wide variety of rationalizations inconsistent with the realities of smoking are offered as reasons for continuing to smoke," the report said.
Still, the FTC noted, "other Roper data . . . does give cause for hope."
Several survey respondents who had read or heard information about smoking cited the statement "I'd like to quit but I don't have the will power," as the reason they continue smoking.
"This suggests," the report concludes, "that new information does affect smokers' beliefs and their desire to quit."