Uncle Sam Takes Aim at Joe Camel with Teenage Smoking Up 30 Percent, the Clinton Administration Is Targeting the Advertisement and Sale of Tobacco Products to Underage Smokers

By Ron Scherer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 8, 1995 | Go to article overview

Uncle Sam Takes Aim at Joe Camel with Teenage Smoking Up 30 Percent, the Clinton Administration Is Targeting the Advertisement and Sale of Tobacco Products to Underage Smokers


Ron Scherer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


AFTER spending $100 million a year on anti-smoking advertising and research, the state of California can proudly point to a 17 percent reduction in cigarette smoking among adults. In Massachusetts, which has spent $70 million over the past two years, cigarette sales are down 15 percent.

But neither campaign has been able to make inroads among teenagers who continue to get hooked on tobacco.

Now, President Clinton wants the federal government to try to prevent children from smoking. "I think that smoking among youth should be diminished and the government has responsibility here," Mr. Clinton said last week.

FDA attack planned

This week, Clinton and the Food & Drug Administration are expected to unveil their attack on the youthful use of cigarettes. Among the areas pro-health advocates expect the government to focus on are advertising that attracts children, restrictions on teenage access to vending machines, and stricter enforcement of proof-of-age in the sale of cigarettes.

Spurring the government's effort are signs that cigarette usage among teenagers is rising. Last month, the University of Michigan Survey Research Center reported that 18.6 percent of eighth graders, who are 13 and 14 years old, smoke, an increase of 30 percent between 1991 and 1994. Nine percent of the eighth graders say they smoke every day compared with 7 percent in 1991.

Michael Eriksen, director of the Office on Smoking and Health at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, says teens smoke because of the way tobacco is marketed and because smoking is part of a "youthful rebellion." But he says there is little the government can do to influence teenage anti-establishment behavior.

In advertising cigarettes, tobacco companies emphasize glamour, good looks, friendship, and independence. "The very thing that teens aspire towards," says Dr. Eriksen. He sees the government's role as "leveling the playing field about the truth of the product."

In Washington, however, there is an active debate over what the government should or shouldn't do. Matt Myers, counsel to the Coalition on Smoking OR Health, asserts the government must restrict sales to children, combined with the elimination of the advertising tools the industry uses to create demand. "To do one without the other is to doom a solution to failure," argues Mr. Myers.

Tobacco industry self-policing

Walker Merryman, a vice president for the Tobacco Institute counters, however, that the industry has for decades "carried through a variety of voluntary programs to restrict access, restrict its own marketing and advertising and educate the retail community on their own legal responsibilities. …

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