Philip Morris, the largest U.S. manufacturer of cigarettes, is launching a $100 million advertising campaign aimed at kids. The message? It's not cool to smoke.
The first ads hit the national airwaves Monday. Philip Morris says they are the result of extensive research about how to effectively communicate a "don't smoke" message to kids ages 10 to 14, reports CBS News Correspondent Russ Mitchell.
With smoking among young people on the rise, the tobacco giant says it wanted to act quickly to prevent more kids from starting the habit. Tobacco critics have another theory.
"I think there are several agendas here," says Bill Novelli of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "I think they want to look reformed. I think the whole tobacco industry wants to look socially responsible. Whether that's the first reason they're doing this or the second, I think it's a clear reason."
The anti-smoking campaign does come at a critical time for the beleaguered cigarette industry. Tobacco companies recently settled a multibillion-dollar claim by 46 states for the costs of treating tobacco-related illnesses. The industry remains under attack and may face renewed efforts in Congress to regulate tobacco.
"Presumably, it will be a step in the right direction," says Novelli. "At first blush, you might say, 'Well, it couldn't hurt.' But, actually, there are times when advertising can hurt."
Barbara Lippert, an advertising critic for Adweek Magazine, doesn't think the campaign will have much positive influence on the youngsters it is targeting.
"They've seen it hundreds of times," she explains, "and they're not even going to listen to the message. But they might see Philip Morris on television, and that's the first time Philip Morris got a smoking message on television in the last 30 years."
Tobacco critics like Lippert argue that cigarette smoking is lethal, and messages that soft-pedal that reality can be harmful to your health.
"Certainly, these ads don't show anyone smoking from a hole in his neck," Lippert says. "They don't show what your lungs look like after 30 years of smoking. They don't show you grizzled smokers, and their skin, and their teeth, and all the other problems associated with smoking, even if you haven't gotten lung cancer. They don't get anywhere near to the problem."
Philip Morris touts the fact that this year it will be spending about the same amount of money on its anti-smoking advertising campaign as it'll spend promoting its best-selling Marlboro brand.
Few can quarrel with the size of the effort. But it'll be years before it's clear whether a $100 million ad blitz reduces smoking or ultimately lights up a whole new generation.