Tobacco Industry Launches Campaign to Extend Royal Welcome to Smokers

Article excerpt

embattled by a rising tide of antismoking legislation and sentiment, is fighting back with a campaign intended to keep America sold on cigarettes.

Part advertising blitz and part grass-roots canvassing for supporters of the cause, the campaign is trying to create a nationwide network of restaurants, hotels and businesses that welcome smokers' patronage and promise to treat them with courtesy and respect.

Called the ``Great American Welcome,'' the campaign displays a new level of assertiveness by tobacco companies in the face of increasing attacks by health professionals, lawmakers and anti-smoking groups.

The campaign ignores scientific studies that have linked smoking to lung cancer, heart attack and stroke.

It depicts smoking, whether in private or in public, as a matter of personal choice, and portrays the tobacco industry as the defender of smokers' civil rights.

``We're seeing an increasing shrillness on the part of vocal antismokers pushing for legislative restrictions,'' said Brennan Dawson, a spokeswoman for the Tobacco Institute, the industry trade group that organized the campaign.

``There is an attitude in the industry that we're going to fight back. We're going to protect our customers' rights, and our own rights.''

Anti-smoking groups have dismissed the campaign, which began 10 days ago, as a publicity-seeking effort rather than a serious attempt to get American businesses to join smokers in forging a new economic or political force.

``Our answer to the `Great American Welcome' is that they are welcoming smokers to lung cancer, emphysema and cardiovascular disease,'' said Irving Rimer, a spokesman for the American Cancer Society. ``They know that the vast majority of smokers want to quit, and that smokers are not a homogenous group.

"It's another desperate attempt by the cigarette industry to offset the positive campaigns to help people give up the habit.''

The Tobacco Institute represents all the major tobacco companies in the United States, including the Ligget Group; the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. unit of RJR Nabisco Inc., the Lorillard Inc unit of the Loews Corp.; the tobacco units of the Philip Morris Companies and the American Tobacco Co.

The industry in recent years has seen a proliferation of laws restricting smoking in public places.

About 350 city and county regulations with strong limitations on smoking have been enacted, said Mark Pertschuk, the director of Americans for Non-Smokers' Rights, based in Berkeley, Calif.

There has also been action on the federal level. Smoking has been banned on most domestic airline flights, after Congress approved such a ban in April.

Besides its legislative setbacks, the tobacco industry is contending with a steady decline of about 2 percent a year in U.S tobacco consumption.

Individual tobaco companies have for some time seen a need for a more assertive stance. In June, Philip Morris USA announced a $5 million advertising campaign intended to demonstrate the economic and political power of smokers.

When that campaign began, Guy L. Smith IV, Philip Morris' vice president for corporate affairs, pointed out that 85 percent of smokers in the United States were registered voters and warned that they were were a potential ``swing vote'' in elections. He said the ad campaign was ``a reaction to the public policy environment in cities and states and in Washington.''

For the last few autumns, the tobacco industry has put on a public relations effort intended to counter the American Cancer Society's ``Great American Smokeout,'' an annual campaign in which the society gets several million smokers to give up the habit for at least one day. …

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