Tobacco Under Fire – Part 1

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(Editor’s Note: In March 1994, ABC killed the “Turning Point” documentary that follows. ABC Executive Vice President Paul Friedman called “Tobacco Under Fire” a “boring” rehash. We disagree. Even two years later, the tape presents significant news breaks. The MoJo Wire invites you to decide yourself.)

[fade in: Camel Comedy Caravan presents the Ed Wynn show]

Meredith Vieira, Narrator: For cigarettes it’s always been the sell that mattered most.

[commercial] It’s important that you get all the pleasure possible from your cigarette, so have a Camel.

[song] [TV commercial montage starring Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Ronald Reagan, Fred Flintstone, Barney Rubble]

[Marlboro commercial]

Narrator: Cigarette smoking is not a natural act. You’ve got to learn to smoke.

[commercial] Take a puff. It’s springtime, it’s springtime, it’s springtime.

Janice Dupree: I felt like my lungs was on fire.

[commercial] Fine tobacco.

Dupree: And I got nauseous.

[commercial] Fine, light, naturally mild tobacco.

Dupree: That’s your body rejecting it right there.

[commercial] That gives you smoothness and mildness and never a rough puff.

[song] [print ad that reads: “You’re safer smoking Philip Morris. . .”

Narrator: The tobacco industry’s biggest challenge has always been convincing people it’s good to smoke.

[commercial] So good, good, good.

[commercial] According to a recent nationwide survey, more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.

Dupree: They said this was good and that it’s okay if you do it; and it was a lie. It’s no good, it’s poison, and you’ll die eventually if you keep doing it.

Narrator: Janice Dupree is 36 years old. She suffers from kidney and heart disease. She first lit up at age 13, and even though her doctors say cigarettes are making her condition worse, she still smokes.

Dupree: It’s not a question of whether it’s right or wrong or whether it’s killing you or not, you just do it.

Narrator: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Hospital, New York. It’s full of people like Janice who bought the tobacco industry’s line. For many it’s their last stop as a smoker. Yet even here the addiction is greater than the disease. Every day cancer patients make their way outside for a nicotine fix.

Woman: When I didn’t have a cigarette at times, I just, I took it. But my God, it’s like worse than a drug addict.

Narrator: Now that we know that smoking-related disease killed more than 400,000 Americans last year, the tobacco industry is under fire as never before, and it’s fighting for its life too. For the cigarette companies to survive, they must replace those smokers who quit or die. So the recruitment never stops.

Richard Schraeder: And who are the most likely targets? It’s kids. Ninety percent of all smokers begin smoking before the age of 18. Half of all new smokers begin smoking before they’re 13. The new smoker is a kid, sometimes not even a teenager, and those kids are the targets of the most sophisticated and the most manipulative advertising campaign we’ve seen by a corporation–the tobacco industry.

Narrator: Richard Schraeder, a consumer activist, has studied the marketing techniques of the tobacco industry.

Schraeder: Kids smoke because of peer pressure; they smoke because they want to be cool.

[Kool billboard]

Schraeder: Cigarettes will make you successful.

[Kool billboard]

Schraeder: Cigarettes will make you popular.

[Kool billboard]

Schraeder: They used all the symbols and all the codes that really matter and push the buttons of the constituency they’re trying to get, and in this case it’s teenage kids.

Narrator: Schraeder led a successful fight in New York City to pass the toughest law in the nation, designed to keep kids out of Marlboro Country–and with good reason. Two thousand New Yorkers die every year from violent crimes, but smoking kills 14,000.

[City inspector and girl walking down the street]

Narrator: You could mistake this couple for father and daughter, but they are actually an undercover law enforcement team. Their job is to crack down on the city’s number one killer, and they’re about to make a bust.

[Girl to shop clerk] “Hi, can I have a pack of Newports.”

Narrator: The law prohibits the sale of tobacco to anyone under age 18. Wendy is only 13.

[Inspector to shop clerk] “City Inspector, I’m with Consumer Affairs.”

Narrator: If you sell cigarettes to a minor in New York City, it can cost you. The inspectors can fine violators as much as $1,000, but the stings haven’t solved the problem. Kids are still sold cigarettes 90 percent of the time.

[storekeeper] “What else you want? That’s it.”

Narrator: The new law also forced cigarette ads from city property, like phone booths. This one was removed. But that didn’t stop Joe Camel; his face adorns private property all over the city. Joe Camel is bigger than any law.

Schraeder: They use this camel on a surfboard; they use the camel shooting pool; they use the camel listening to rock music. Before Joe Camel, only 1 percent of consumers under the age of 18 bought Camel cigarettes. A year after saturation of Joe Camel commercials, 33 percent of those consumers under 18 years old bought Camel cigarettes. It’s been profoundly successful.

Narrator: But when R.J. Reynolds Tobacco was first accused of targeting children with Joe Camel, spokesman Tom Griscom denied it.

Griscom: Our market is not kids; our market is trying to reach 35 million smokers who smoke another brand.

Narrator: The emergence of old Joe as a cult figure has been a bonanza for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. Industry observers say that success is forcing the nation’s largest cigarette company, Philip Morris, to defend the number one brand among teenagers, Marlboro. “The Marlboro Adventure Team” is Philip Morris’ answer to Joe Camel–a fleet of Marlboro vans from coast-to-coast, driven by young, enthusiastic workers. The vans are chock-full of free gifts, from baseball caps to camping gear–free, that is, if you buy enough Marlboros. It is one of the most expensive promotions in the history of the industry–by some estimates more than $300 million. And the campaign has provoked the wrath of anti-smoking groups.


Narrator: “Turning Point” wanted to learn more about the Adventure Team controversy, so we followed this van to a working class neighborhood in South Boston, where it was scheduled to spend the day outside this smoke shop, but when the driver learned “Turning Point” was there, he packed up his van.

Driver: I’m not allowed to comment, and I’m also leaving.

Reporter: Why are you leaving?

Driver: Because I’m not allowed to talk to you.

Reporter: Why?

Driver: Because that’s what I’m instructed.

Reporter: Who gave you those instructions?

Driver: Philip Morris. If you have any questions, call them.

Narrator: And so we did. I dialed the number on the card to get more information about the Adventure Team.

[recording] Thank you for calling consumer affairs. All lines are busy…

Narrator: It took three hours before I reached a public relations spokesperson willing to take my questions.

Philip Morris [over the phone]: Do you mind holding a minute?

Narrator [on phone]: No, not at all. Thanks.

Narrator: She wouldn’t tell me how much was spent on the campaign or what their long-range plans are, but she did answer this question:

Narrator [on phone]: You do not want kids to smoke?

Philip Morris [over the phone]: No, we sure don’t.

Narrator [on phone]: Do you think kids would be attracted to the kinds of products that your van program promotes, like backpacks and the shirts and the jackets and the caps?

Philip Morris [over the phone]: I think that individuals who are interested in outdoor adventure and who smoke might be interested in participating in our promotion. I can’t tell you what interests kids, I have no interest in that.

Narrator: To find out more about the Marlboro team we went to this diner with a hidden camera for a job interview to drive one of the vans. John Rosano runs a dozen Marlboro vans in the Brooklyn area.

Rosano: When you’re dealing within, like pretty good local neighborhoods, in family-type neighborhoods, you know, and you’re trying to con the young smokers to switch to Marlboro, you know what I mean? (QuickTime video, 2.4 Mb)

Greg Connolly: They go to the baseball parks with their Marlboro billboards; they go to the monster truck rallies; they go to the auto racing; they take their Marlboro vans to low income communities and they park them in front of the convenience stores and they peddle death and disease on the most vulnerable in our society and they don’t care. And if the tobacco industry doesn’t get teens they’ll be out of business, and they know it.

Narrator: Greg Connolly is trying to put them out of business with commercials like this one.

[commercial] Last November, the voters of Massachusetts took a stand…

Narrator: Connolly runs the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program. Despite intense industry opposition, voters approved a proposal to spend $50 million to create this anti-smoking campaign.

[commercial] …It’s time to draw the line; it’s time for a show of strength; it’s time we made smoking history…

Connolly: Marlboro is fighting back because they don’t want to give these youngsters Camels rather than Marlboro. They’re trying to link smoking Marlboro with, you know, adventure–with white water rafting. To get the kayak raft, you’ve got to smoke 7,200 Marlboro cigarettes. Now, if you can inflate that raft, blow it up, after smoking 7,200 Marlboro cigarettes, you’re a real super hero.

Narrator: Criticism of Marlboro’s Adventure Team has begun to spread beyond the anti-smoking community.

Frank Blethen: Tobacco is so addictive, that if it was discovered today, this country wouldn’t allow it to be a legal product.

Narrator: Newspapers have always depended on cigarette ads, but that’s not true anymore at the Seattle Times. The Adventure Team’s emphasis on outdoor sports gear offended publisher Frank Blethen.

Blethen: We believe the tobacco company’s targeting of the groups, particularly kids and women and minorities, has become more obvious.

Narrator: So the Seattle Times became the latest big city daily newspaper to ban tobacco ads, and publisher Blethen claims to have no regrets about losing $100,000 this year alone.

Blethen: All you have to do is read your daily newspaper to read the scientific articles about what smoking does to your lungs.

Reporter: But the tobacco companies deny the cause and effect.

Blethen: And if anybody believes that, it’s only the tobacco companies.

Connolly: And the hypocrisy is, the people that are doing this, the CEOs of these companies, they wouldn’t touch the stuff.

Reporter: None of them smoke?

Connolly: Not one.

Narrator: We wanted to ask the chief executives of the major tobacco companies why they don’t use their own product. All declined to be interviewed. John Rosano, who directs the Marlboro vans in Brooklyn, does smoke.

Rosano: Well, it’s free choice. You know what I mean? I choose to smoke; you choose not to smoke. You know what I mean? If I had a half a brain I never would have started smoking. You know what I mean? Come on.

[Marlboro billboard]


[fade out to commercial]

Part 2 | Part 3 | QuickTime clips


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