Marketing Admission Fuels Efforts To Target Smoking by Teenagers

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A cigarette company's striking admission that the tobacco industry markets its products to children has given a big boost to education and health groups' campaigns to stamp out smoking among young people.

"We're going to take the ball and run with it," said Brenda Z. Greene, the manager for health programs at the National School Boards Association, which is establishing a national help-line for schools that want to achieve a smoke-free campus. "It adds credibility to what schools have been trying to teach," she said.

The Liggett Group Inc., the smallest of the country's five leading tobacco companies, acknowledged last month that cigarettes are addictive, that they can cause cancer, and that the industry as a whole markets to minors. These concessions--a first for any cigarette maker--were part of Liggett's settlement with 22 states that have filed lawsuits against the country's five tobacco giants for medical costs associated with the negative health effects of tobacco use. The Durham, N.C.-based company sells L&M and Chesterfield brand cigarettes.

William D. Novelli, the president of the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the announcement will give his group some critical ammunition to thwart youth smoking.

"This is like a booster rocket," he said. His Washington-based group, which represents 118 education, health, and civic organizations, has already incorporated Liggett's statements into its advertisements. Full-page ads set to run in several newspapers in the next few months ask the remaining tobacco companies to make similar disclosures.

Applying Pressure

Mr. Novelli said he also plans to use the new information to intensify efforts to lobby Congress to fully fund the Clinton administration's campaign to stop the advertising and sale of tobacco products to minors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last fall imposed far-reaching new guidelines that prohibit tobacco advertising on billboards within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds.

The FDA rules also restrict print ads in publications with a youth readership of more than 2 million to black and white text only. Phased in over the next two years, the regulations also ban vending machines in places that cater to children and prohibit the sale or giveaway of products like caps and bags that sport tobacco-product logos. Although the federal agency's rules do not require congressional approval, the administration is requesting $34 million in grants for the next fiscal year to help states enforce them.

The White House was quick to react to Liggett's announcement. Vice President Al Gore called it "a historic victory" for the country. "Tobacco products are hooking our children and cutting short their lives," Mr. Gore said following the admission. Every day, he said, 3,000 teenagers become smokers, and nearly 1,000 of those will have their lives shortened by tobacco-related illnesses.

Students did not seem surprised by Liggett's revelation that promotions were aimed at them.

"Everybody already knew it was happening, and it's conniving and sneaky that they haven't admitted it till now," said Dana Logandro, an 8th grader in Runnemede, N.J. As part of the Mary E. Volz School's anti-smoking campaign, the 14-year-old and her classmates have collected dozens of tobacco-company giveaways, such as mugs and caps emblazoned with Joe Camel.

The cartoon mascot for Camel cigarettes has been widely criticized by educators as appealing to youths. And last week, the Federal Trade Commission was considering lodging an unfair-advertising complaint against the manufacturer, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

Industry Denials

R.J. Reynolds and the other three leading cigarette producers flatly reject any claim that their industry targets minors, however.

"If [Liggett Director Bennett S.] LeBow is saying that when they marketed, they were directing their products at young people, that is absolutely deplorable," Peggy Carter, a spokeswoman for R.J. Reynolds, said in an interview last week. "Reynolds Tobacco does not do that. We say youth shouldn't smoke," she said.

R.J. Reynolds and several other tobacco companies are challenging the FDA rules in federal court in Greensboro, N.C. The companies argue that the federal agency doesn't have jurisdiction over tobacco products. The FDA maintains it has regulatory authority because tobacco products can lead to nicotine addiction.

The firms also argue that the FDA's curbs on tobacco ads amount to censorship and unfairly limit adults' freedom of product choice.

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