`Smoking stops here' starting today, state officials declare

Glendening set to launch first phase of campaign that targets communities

July 12, 2002|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

If you've been baffled by the 100 billboards scattered around Maryland that bear only a single inscrutable word - "HERE" - then you have gone for the first bait in the biggest anti-smoking media blitz in state history.

Today the puzzling message will be replaced by photos of peppy, smiling Marylanders, a welcome message tailored to the community where each billboard stands and the campaign's slogan: "Smoking Stops Here."

The 17-month first phase of the campaign will cost $14 million, which will come from the state's tobacco settlement, said J.B. Hanson, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. If studies show that the ads are prompting teen-agers and young adults to quit smoking, an additional $40 million would be spent over four years, he said.

The campaign, to be launched by Gov. Parris N. Glendening at a news conference in Annapolis today, will start with television ads, billboards and a Web site (www.smokingstopshere.com). It will ultimately plant its slogans on everything from license plate frames to mouse pads, stealing the same marketing tactics the tobacco industry has used for years.

"I think these ads are going to work because they feel like a movement," says Jeff Millman, creative director at GKV Communications, the Baltimore advertising agency leading the effort. "It's not preaching to smokers or kids. It's one part social marketing and one part political campaign."

Anti-smoking advocates and marketing experts said yesterday that anti-smoking ad campaigns have had uneven results depending on their contents, consistency and scale. Recent campaigns in California and Florida have proved effective, they said.

Two experts were unimpressed by a description of Maryland's initial billboard and television ads, but they said follow-up ads scheduled to begin running in September sound more effective.

The first television ads show Marylanders making general anti-smoking statements, from a college student advising people not to smoke "in my dorm" to people calling on others to "Join a local coalition. ... Support smoke-free businesses."

The billboards unveiled today say only "Welcome to" with the community's name and "Smoking Stops Here."

Millman said the initial ads are designed to create an anti-smoking "brand" for the campaign, using the same tools of image and association that have long sold Marlboros and Winstons. Once established, the "Smoking Stops Here" brand will be developed.

The next four television spots, for instance, will carry more compelling messages. One, set in a bar, seeks to expose the industry's tactic of putting cigarette logos on items given out to young people. Another features a Hampden woman telling about a friend who died of a smoking-related disease.

A third ad shows two girls soccer teams stopping their game when a man on the sidelines starts to light up a cigarette. In a fourth, a crossing guard talks about seeing parents smoking with the car windows closed while driving their children to school.

John F. Banzhaf III, director of Action on Smoking and Health in Washington and a 35-year veteran of anti-smoking campaigns, said the initial ads sound too vague and generic to have much effect.

"People have been running anti-smoking ads since 1967, and we have a pretty good idea of what works," he said. "I'm not sure Maryland has to reinvent the wheel and bet $50 million on it."

He said the follow-up TV ads sound more effective, but he questioned the soccer spot, saying that attacking outdoor smoking may be seen as extreme. "Telling the smoker to put out a cigarette on the sidelines of an outdoor soccer game may seem to many people to be overreaching," he said.

Connie Pechmann, an associate professor of marketing at the University of California at Irvine who has studied anti-smoking ads, also expressed doubts about the initial advertisements. But she said the underly- ing concept of uniting a community against smoking can be very effective.

"The initial launch sounds very vague," Pechmann said. "But if that's just the teaser or introduction, and they move quickly on to stronger messages, it could be effective."

Pechmann said that what marketing experts call the "social norm approach" to discouraging smoking has proven most effective, tapping into widespread hostility toward the habit. She thought the campaign's focus on mobilizing community opinion sounded promising.

State officials said they would decline to comment in detail until after today's news conference. Hanson, the state health department spokesman, said simply, "We're sure this campaign is going to be successful. This is another step in Governor Glendening's initiative to make Maryland tobacco-free."

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