JIM LEHRER: Now, regulating tobacco advertising. While waiting for the national tobacco settlement to be resolved, many communities are acting on their own. Rod Minott of KCTS-Seattle reports.
ROD MINOTT: On a recent afternoon outside Seattle's Franklin High School students were busy sharing yearbook memories and packs of cigarettes.
ALAN OLSON, Sophomore: It's kind of like a social thing, you know. I mean, when we're out here just chillin', you got to like--
YOUNG GIRL: Have a cigarette.
ALAN OLSON: Exactly. I mean, it's somethin' to do 'cause like we sit in groups, you know, and you're talking there, like move off, talk to other people, and you're just sittin' there and you don't want to look like an idiot, so it's like you got somethin' to do.
ROD MINOTT: Attitudes like this, combined with growing alarm over federal data, which shows a sharp rise in underage smoking, recently let the city of Seattle and its county board of health to enact a controversial crackdown on tobacco advertising.
DR. ALONZO PLOUGH, Director, King County Public Health: Children are beginning to use tobacco at increasingly younger ages. And, again, one out of every three children who begin as smokers when they become adults will die of tobacco smoke. So there's been a significant body of literature that has shown that advertising influences minors' use of tobacco.
ROD MINOTT: In May, the King County Board of Health unanimously approved one of the most restrictive bans in the nation on outdoor tobacco advertising.
DR. ALONZO PLOUGH: What the board has are representation of what a child can see at five hundred--at a hundred feet, at five hundred feet, at one thousand feet, and two thousand feet.
ROD MINOTT: The health board's rule banned all tobacco billboards within 2,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, and parks. Initially, the company that owns most of the billboards in the Seattle area, AK Media, fought the ad restriction. But faced with anti-tobacco protests and passage of ad restrictions, the company finally volunteered on its own to remove and stop accepting all tobacco advertising. The Seattle agreement came on the heels of the tobacco industry's settlement with 40 states, a deal which seeks to recover the costs of tobacco-related illnesses.
MICHAEL MOORE, Attorney General, Mississippi: We are here today to announce what we think is we know, we believe is the most historic public health achievement in history.
ROD MINOTT: The nationwide settlement also proposes to ban all outdoor cigarette advertising, including billboards, as well as eliminate use of cartoon and human figures in print ads, such as Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man.
BOB BUTTERWORTH, Attorney General, Florida: Those billboards will go down. In fact, there will be no cartoon characters. There will be no human beings. In essence, the Marlboro Man will be riding into the sunset on Joe Camel.
ROD MINOTT: But concern that the proposed nationwide deal will take a long time to pass Congress has led some local communities to take action into their own hands. In addition to Seattle, about 30 towns or cities have recently passed curbs on outdoor tobacco advertising. Dave Vance is public health director for Pierce County.
DAVE VANCE, Pierce County Public Health: This is an example of what will no longer, what is no longer allowed in Pierce County. You won't see the Marlboro Man riding off into the sunset anymore. You won't see Joe Camel. You won't see any of this color, any of this advertisement allowed anywhere throughout the county.
ROD MINOTT: Vance says the county's regulation bans tobacco advertising in areas heavily used by children, such as schools and bus stops.
DAVE VANCE: If there's any advertising at all within a thousand feet or so of a kids' zone, that is absolutely restricted. We do allow under this resolution what we call tombstone advertising, which is plain, black and white advertising, which just lists the price and availability of cigarette brands. Even that is restricted within a thousand feet of a kids' zone, a kids' zone being a school, a playground, or someplace which kids would be accessing schools, playgrounds, or public places.
ROD MINOTT: The restrictions cover even tobacco advertising located inside stores that may be visible from the street. At this inspection a county public health agent warned the store owner that his Camel cigarette clock would have to come down.
COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH AGENT: I notice the Camel clock. Is that new?
STORE OWNER: No, it's old.
COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH AGENT: Is it? I was noticing it through the window out front, which means it probably needs to be moved a little bit so that it doesn't show so much.
ROD MINOTT: While most stores are complying with the ad restrictions, five have sued the county in federal court in a bid to overturn the advertising rules. One of the plaintiffs, Med Armanious, says the rules are hurting his business.
MED ARMANIOUS, Convenience Store Owner: I would say that it's probably reduced our sales by about 10 percent. We've had to take off any advertising on the windows, anything that can be seen from the curb we've had to replace with black and white signs. And that goes against all the color schemes that we're working on. So it's not as noticeable. I think everybody knows that we sell cigarettes but our price can't be conveyed that it's a good price.
ROD MINOTT: Brad Keller is an attorney representing the store owners. He argues that tobacco ads are not aimed at luring minors into smoking.
BRAD KELLER, Attorney for Store Owners: Independent surveys that have been done with minors who smoke, time and time again they list three reasons for why they start smoking. They talk about peer pressure; they talk about the desire of teenagers. And we all have teenagers, the desire of teenagers to rebel and do that which they are forbidden to do, and they talk about their family role models.
ROD MINOTT: Outraged by the rules, one tobacco company, Philip Morris, replaced its cigarette billboards with a series of ads attacking the Pierce County ordinance as a violation of constitutionally-protected free speech. Attorney Keller agrees with that view.
BRAD KELLER: The main way in which it violates free speech rights is it restricts the content of what somebody can say about their product. And the content that it seeks to restrict is an otherwise lawful and truthful statement. We're not dealing with false advertising. We're not talking about misleading advertising. We're talking about lawful, truthful advertising about products that are permissible to sell. And no government has the right to restrict free speech rights regarding those types of products.
ROD MINOTT: But Vance disputes that claim.
DAVE VANCE: Our attorneys have researched and assured us from various law cases around the country, the City of Baltimore being one example, that, in fact, tobacco advertising falls within the commercial restrictions under the First Amendment. And so I think we are well within our constitutional authority here to be restricting this kind of advertising. And I think the tobacco industry and the small retailers realize that. They're just using this as a front, a smokescreen, if you will.
ROD MINOTT: With the growing number of restrictions, tobacco companies have started to change their advertising strategies. As an example, R.J. Reynolds recently dropped its controversial Joe Camel cartoon and substituted new ads.
SPOKESMAN: This ad would be and should be banned from "Sports Illustrated."
ROD MINOTT: But even this has angered some anti-tobacco groups. At a recent press conference the American Lung Association charged the new ads for Camel Lights, which show the frame of a black motorcycle, were still aimed at underage smokers.
PENELOPE QUEEN, American Lung Association: And as you can see, Camel's uses the headline, "Live Out Loud," which we understood to be a kind of war cry which youth can identify with. Most alarming is that this ad--this ad that successfully targets young people--falls completely within the guidelines set forth in the proposed tobacco settlement. No human images. No cartoon characters. We conclude, therefore, that these proposed guidelines have succeed in forcing the tobacco industry to be more creative in their advertising strategies and have actually reinvigorated their brands.
ROD MINOTT: But R. J. Reynolds denies its new Camel ads are targeting teen smokers. In a statement released by the company a spokesman said, "All of our advertising is geared towards adults. We do not want kids to smoke. That is not our goal. We came up with a new campaign, and there are still criticisms. We're damned if we do, and we're damned if we don't. But we're not going to just shut off the lights on advertising and close the door on it." Meantime, Franklin High School teens continue to insist peer pressure, rather than colorful ads, plays a bigger part in why they smoke.
MALE TEEN: Billboards, no matter pro or con, don't really make any difference to anybody.
FEMALE TEEN: It's the thing, you know. There's a law, you're gonna want to break it.
ROD MINOTT: As anti-tobacco advocates struggle with how best to stop minors from breaking the law, the tobacco purchases, some experts predict that the constitutionality of ad restrictions may ultimately have to be decided in the courts.