Philip Morris Cos., the holding company that includes the nation's largest tobacco firm, is launching a new television advertising campaign aimed at broadening its image to ensure the public thinks of it as producing something besides cigarettes.
The new ads come on the heels of another print and television campaign by Lorillard Tobacco Co., the nation's fifth-largest cigarette maker, designed to encourage parents to tell their children it's "uncool" to smoke.
The ad campaigns mark some of the first forays by the big tobacco companies to get back on the airwaves since they agreed to abandon television advertising in the early 1970s.
Both Philip Morris and Lorillard emphasized that the new campaigns are not part of the 1998 tobacco settlement requiring the companies to contribute about $1.5 billion to a nationwide anti-smoking education campaign.
Instead Philip Morris intends to spend $100 million per year independently on the program, an industry spokesman said, while Lorillard will spend a smaller but still significant amount of money.
"It's part of a much bigger effort that we're undertaking to be more accessible to the public and media, and to talk about issues, like tobacco, and drinking and driving," said Steve Parrish, Philip Morris Cos. senior vice president for corporate affairs.
Parrish said the ads were supposed to show that besides tobacco, Philip Morris is also the parent of popular brand names such as Kraft Foods, Maxwell House coffee, Post cereals and Miller Brewing Co. The company will open a Web site at www.philipmorris.com.
At the same time, Parrish added, the corporation wants "to tell people about our 40-year commitment" to fight social ills such as hunger and domestic violence, both featured in the television ads, along with Philip Morris's disaster relief efforts and support for a program that tries to discourage shopkeepers from selling cigarettes to underage smokers.
Anti-smoking advocates greeted the new campaigns with skepticism: "It's clearly an effort to gain innocence by association," said attorney Cliff Douglas, of Tobacco Control Law and Policy Consulting in Ann Arbor, Mich. "And indeed, Philip Morris has a long pattern of success in buying the support and acquiescence of good people and organizations by contributing to worthy causes."
Douglas also suggested there seems to be "a coordinated effort" by the companies to fill a void until a new round of settlement-funded advertising appears.
Douglas dismissed the Philip Morris ads as "a diversionary tactic to redirect the public's attention away from the addictive and lethal nature of the company's products," but he also criticized the Lorillard campaign--more directly aimed at discouraging tobacco use--as "ambiguous."
One Lorillard television ad shows a teenager picking his way through a dingy alley to where an appropriately sleazy older man is waiting to pierce his tongue.
Shot in grainy black-and-white, the ad conveys this impromptu surgical procedure as a painful, low-life experience. When it's over, the "surgeon" shakes out a pack of cigarettes and offers one to the boy.
"Do you think I'm crazy?" the boy sneers, and walks off with his new pierced tongue.