Big Tobacco’s image battle loses steam in wake of Florida verdict

ATLANTA: In the wake of the blockbuster dollars 145 billion damages award against Big Tobacco, even the industry’s most stalwart supporters are abandoning ship - rendering an already difficult PR battle downright impossible.

ATLANTA: In the wake of the blockbuster dollars 145 billion damages award against Big Tobacco, even the industry’s most stalwart supporters are abandoning ship - rendering an already difficult PR battle downright impossible.

ATLANTA: In the wake of the blockbuster dollars 145 billion

damages award against Big Tobacco, even the industry’s most stalwart

supporters are abandoning ship - rendering an already difficult PR

battle downright impossible.



Coverage following the Florida jury’s decision suggested that the

industry has lost ground in the courtroom of public opinion and in

Congress - though not on Wall Street, where stock prices of the

companies in the lawsuit have barely fluttered.



While a Gallup poll published last Tuesday showed that 59% of Americans

agree with the defense’s contention that smokers are ’mostly or

completely to blame’ for their illnesses, that figure has slipped since

state attorneys general filed suit against Big Tobacco - it was 64% in

1994.



Much to the collective surprise of the companies in the lawsuit, the

dollars 100 million per year Big Tobacco has been spending to foster a

new image as a community-focused industry that cares about kids was

held against them in the courtroom.



Dr. Michael Siegel, an associate professor at the Boston University

School of Public Health, testified that messages crafted by the tobacco

industry were unlikely to be effective in curbing youth smoking. His

testimony, according to many onlookers, took the air out of the

industry’s presentation of its recent good works.



Philip Morris director of communications John Sorrels, however,

downplayed the impact of Siegel’s words. ’It’s a little

counter-intuitive to say the tobacco industry is offering forbidden

fruit when everyone from the Clinton administration down is saying kids

shouldn’t smoke,’ he explained.



Perhaps the biggest test of whether Big Tobacco’s PR is working is on

the political plain, where the industry continues to fight heightened

regulation. But two days after the verdict, one of the most powerful

voices in Congress showed little sympathy for the industry.



Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott called Big Tobacco ’arrogant,’

adding, ’I think they have targeted some of their advertising,

knowingly or otherwise, to young people. I think they needed to make

the product safer, and they could have. It’s pretty hard to defend

that.’



Sorrels insisted that his industry has reformed: ’Clearly, the

restrictions in the master settlement agreement are enforceable and

make sure that the companies don’t cross the line and market to kids.’



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