MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
(Soundbite of television ad)
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Winston taste good like a cigarette should. Winston taste good like a cigarette should.
NORRIS: That familiar cigarette commercial aired for many years. It wasn't until 1971 that such ads were banned from television and radio. In 1991, most tobacco billboards came down. And now there's a push in Congress to limit cigarette advertising even further.
As part of a larger push to let the Food and Drug Administration regulate tobacco, Congress wants to crack down on ads in magazines, stores and online.
NPR's Adam Hochberg reports.
ADAM HOCHBERG: If you ask smokers when they started using cigarettes, you're likely to hear a lot of responses like these.
Mr. NEAL CRIDER(ph): I'm 27 and I've been smoking since was 13.
Ms. KAREN BUCHANAN(ph): I started when I was 16, because at that time it was cool. I mean, now it's not cool (unintelligible) 16. That was the reason.
HOCHBERG: We met hairdressers Neal Crider and Karen Buchanan on the streets of Greensboro, North Carolina, where they were getting quick nicotine fixes before they headed back inside their smoke-free salon. Like about 90 percent of American smokers, they picked up the habit as teenagers.
So did 20-year-old Josh Shoffety(ph), who manages a uniform store nearby. Shoffety says he felt peer pressure to start smoking in middle school, and he saw a lot of ads that made cigarettes look glamorous.
Mr. JOSH SHOFFETY: You know, in the magazines, you see the Newport pleasure, and the ad has got the good looking people, you know, the nice looking man and the great looking girl, and they look real happy and they got smiles on their faces. So it makes you think that, oh, that's a fun thing to do.
HOCHBERG: Health advocates say those ads are a key reason young people gravitate toward cigarettes. And they've long called on Congress to enact tighter tobacco ad restrictions. The House and Senate are now considering legislation that not only would allow the FDA to regulate cigarette ingredients but also would limit tobacco ads in magazines, on the Internet, and in stores and bars.
During a Senate hearing, Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said the measure would greatly reduce advertising anywhere teenagers are likely to see it.
Mr. MATTHEW MYERS (President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids): By eliminating the forms of marketing that have been identified as having a great impact on children, that allows the mother and father to sit down across the table with them and talk about tobacco with a much more even playing field. That's a critically important step.
HOCHBERG: Tobacco companies insist they don't intentionally market to teens. Industry leader, Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, calls youth smoking prevention a fundamental corporate priority. And at R.J. Reynolds, the nation's second largest cigarette maker, vice president Tommy Payne says the company's advertising is targeted solely at adult smokers.
Mr. TOMMY PAYNE (Vice President of External Relations, R.J. Reynolds): We're a company that's made up of parents, you know, grandparents, aunts, uncles. And we don't come to work and check our ethics at the door, and spend all day thinking about designing programs aimed at getting a target audience that's illegal to use the product.
HOCHBERG: But while the nation's tobacco companies are united in stating their opposition to youth smoking, they sharply disagree on the pending legislation. Philip Morris supports it, saying FDA oversight would lead to lead to less teen smoking, less dangerous cigarettes, and a less volatile business climate. But other companies fear the biggest effect of the legislation would be to cement Philip Morris' industry dominance.
With Morris' Marlboro brand already holding 40 percent of the market, Payne says the proposed advertising restrictions would limit R.J. Reynold's ability to compete.
Mr. PAYNE: Your competition comes from trying to get those who use Marlboro to try, for us, Camel or Kool. If you're unable to communicate with those competitive smokers, you're going to tend to lock market share in. And if you're the biggest brand, then you're going to benefit from that.
HOCHBERG: This is the fifth time in the past seven years that Congress has considered these restrictions. But while Republican leaders block them in the past, the current Democratic leadership backs this legislation, which now is attracting bipartisan support. That increases the likelihood that cigarette advertisements of any type may soon become much rarer.
Adam Hochberg, NPR News.
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