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Tobacco ads back on TV

Decades after they were banned from the airwaves, Big Tobacco companies return to prime-time television this weekend — but not by choice.

Under court order, the tobacco industry for the first time will be forced to advertise the deadly, addictive effects of smoking, more than 11 years after a judge ruled that the companies had misled the public about the dangers of cigarettes.

But years of legal pushback by the industry over every detail means the ads will be less hard-hitting than what was proposed. Tobacco control experts say the campaign — built around network TV and newspapers — will not reach people when they are young and most likely to start smoking.

"Their legal strategy is always obstruct, delay, create confusion and buy more time," said Ruth Malone, of the University of California, San Francisco, who has studied the industry for 20 years. "So by the time this was finally settled, newspapers have a much smaller readership, and nowadays, who watches network TV?"

The new spots, which begin Sunday, lay out the toll of smoking in blunt text and voiceover statements: "More people die every year from smoking than from murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes and alcohol, combined."

More than half a century ago, American media was saturated with tobacco advertising. Cigarettes were the most advertised product on TV and tobacco companies sponsored hundreds of shows, including "I Love Lucy," ''The Flintstones" and "Perry Mason." People smoked almost everywhere, in restaurants, airplanes and doctor's offices.

Congress banned cigarette advertising from radio and TV in 1970 and subsequent restrictions have barred the industry from billboards and public transportation. Yet companies still spend more than $8 billion annually on marketing, including print advertising, mailed coupons and store displays.



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