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Stealth in advertising Cigar caper: Warnings and regulation are needed to close loophole for tobacco product.


DON'T CRY FOR the tobacco industry. Despite the $368 billion settlement it agreed last year to pay, tobacco companies are far healthier than their customers: Forty-six million Americans risk health problems from smoking, and the overseas market promises enormous profits for the industry.

In addition, as Sun reporter Alec Klein reports in a three-part series that concludes today, cigar makers have waged a stealth campaign to promote their products as the essence of cool, without mentioning -- or being required to mention -- the health hazards.

The industry got plenty of positive publicity when actors Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum puffed on cigars after saving the world from alien invaders in "Independence Day," one of the highest-grossing films ever.

J.C. Newman Cigar Co. supplied its Cuesta-Rey cigars to the film's studio. Although the movie obscured the brand name, placing the cigars on the lips of heroes accomplished for the industry what Humphrey Bogart did for cigarette makers.

The image forms a subliminal but straight-forward syllogism in the viewer's mind:

A. The personality is cool;

B. The personality uses Product A;

C. Therefore, Product A is cool.

Personality-product pairings have a long track record: Michael Jordan and Nike; Cal Ripken and milk; Cindy Crawford and Pepsi; Jerry Seinfeld and American Express, are among the most popular current duos.

Mr. Klein's "The Cigar Caper" series reports that cigar makers essentially advertise their products by paying fees to get them placed in films like "Independence Day" and "The First Wives Club" and on popular television shows like "Friends." In these productions, stogie-smoking celebrities like Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, Courteney Cox and Elliott Gould elevate the cigar's image.

None of these productions come with disclaimers that viewing can lead to dangerous habits. To the contrary, "Independence Day" concludes with a hero's conversion from an anti-tobacco zealot who preaches against the health risks to a new smoker who doesn't care.

This is what cigar companies seek -- a carefree image for their products. Yet the American Lung Association says cigar smokers are four to 10 times more likely than nonsmokers to die from laryngeal, oral and esophageal cancers. Carcinogens in cigars pass through the lining of the mouth and throat and into the circulating bloodstream. Cigar smokers are more susceptible ruptured aortic aneurysms, peptic ulcers, heart disease and bronchitis. Cancer can also turn up in the bladder or the kidney.

Similar health concerns prompted regulation of cigarettes, banning them from television commercials and requiring packages to carry warnings.

Unfortunately, cigars have escaped much of this regulation although they are equally dangerous. Even when the tobacco industry, under threat of regulation, voluntarily ended paid tobacco product placement in films, cigars were excluded from those requirements.

Unless the Federal Trade Commission applies the cigarette standard and cracks down on the paid placement of cigars on television and movies, a generation will be misled into believing these dangerous tobacco products are not only cool but safe -- which they definitely are not.

Pub Date: 1/13/98

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