Magazine article ADWEEK

Allan M. Brandt: On the Spot

Magazine article ADWEEK

Allan M. Brandt: On the Spot

Article excerpt

In his new book, The Cigarette Century (Basic Books, 2007), Allan M. Brandt covers the history of the tobacco companies and the role Big Tobacco has played in industries ranging from business and health to advertising. His research assigns 100 million smoking-related deaths to the 20th century, and looks at how tobacco companies and their ad agencies are targeting emerging economies in Asia and Africa in the 21st. An avid tennis player, Brandt, 53, is the Amalie Moses Kass Professor of the History of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a professor in the History of Sciences Department.

Q: Who do you feel has the most influence when it comes to making cigarettes attractive to younger people?

A: Films and movie stars have been an important influence, especially on younger smokers. But I always return to the idea that the [tobacco] industry has been principally culpable in attracting youth to smoking.

What about the ad agencies?

The issue of smoking raises important ethical and moral issues for the ad agencies. They do use their skills and creativity on behalf of a client that is promoting an inherently dangerous and death-causing product. Some advertising executives [have] refused to take tobacco accounts.

Your book notes that David Ogilvy, back in the '60s, was the first ad executive to publicly renounce cigarette accounts. What do you think of agencies today that have tobacco accounts?

It raises questions about working on behalf of certain clients. I've never smoked and have had exposure to these ads, so I don't see ads as the most important explanation for why people smoke.... [But] there's no question that over the course of the 20th century there were brilliant and effective advertising campaigns that made smoking so popular and prevalent a behavior. We also know that advertising helps to sustain smoking as a behavior among some people who are considering quitting. So there's no way to get advertising out of this problem; it's an important element in the overall smoking problem and the epidemic of diseases that are associated with tobacco. Advertising is part of a complex set of dynamics that have driven this behavior.

What are the other factors?

It's a highly addictive behavior. It's an easily available product that's inadequately labeled or regulated. I don't attribute the whole problem to advertising, but it would be useful in solving the tobacco public health problem to look more closely at advertising.

Don't adults in a free society have the right to engage in behaviors that may be harmful, but not unlawful?

Absolutely. …

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