“FORGET ALL THE HEALTH RISKS. If The Beautiful People Do It, It Must Be Okay!”
That’s the “warning” on a print ad depicting several young folk sitting around tables in a nightclub. These nice-looking people seem happy, even as they converse over cigarette butts clogging ashtrays.
But their conversational partners are stuffed in black plastic bags, with “BODYBAG” emblazoned across each of them.
“What if cigarette ads told the truth?” reads the ad’s caption.
The ad is one of many produced by Truth, an organization “dedicated to exposing the truth about tobacco so that people can have all of the information necessary to make up their minds for themselves,” read thetruth.com.
Truth began in 1999. It receives its funding from the American Legacy Foundation (ALF), an organization founded in 1998 after the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA).
The MSA “resolved lawsuits filed by the attorneys general [in 46 states] against the tobacco industry and provided the states funding intended for tobacco prevention and control,” according to ALF’s Web site. “The agreement required tobacco companies to take down all billboard advertising and advertising in sports arenas, to stop using cartoon characters to sell cigarettes and to make many of their internal documents available to the public.”
Truth does not lobby for a ban on smoking, nor does it even call for one.
Rather, “what we’re trying to do is expose the truth about tobacco and show our friends all the ways that the myths about smoking making someone cool have been created,” according to thetruth.com. “That way our friends will know the real deal and have the knowledge they need to make their own choices about tobacco.”
Toward this end, Truth has placed controversial but memorable ads in various media, including television, radio, magazines and the Internet.
Truth’s TV ads have included cryptic fare as well as other, less subtle content involving bodybags.
A print ad borrowing Marlboro Man imagery carries this warning: “YEE HAW! You Too Can Be An Independent, Rugged, Macho-looking Dead Guy.”
And yet another ad simply shows a hand marred by paper cuts. “RIP OUT THE NEXT CIGARETTE AD YOU SEE. BECAUSE TOBACCO KILLED ABOUT 430,000 PEOPLE LAST YEAR AND PAPER CUTS DIDN’T KILL ANYBODY.”
Truth collects information from the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration and the American Cancer Society. It also relies on information from the tobacco industry itself whenever sources become available.
Truth seeks to hold tobacco companies accountable for the information they provide the public concerning nicotine, cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
“The bottom line is, tobacco companies deceived customers and the public,” read thetruth.com. “We think the tobacco companies owe their consumers the truth about their product–and if they don’t provide it, we will.”
Visitors to Truth’s Web site can rummage through its advertising archives, take links to other tobacco-fighting sites, send e-mail to executives of tobacco companies and generally learn more about Truth.
“Even though our main mission is to uncover the truth about tobacco, the truth is about a lot more than just that,” read Truth’s Web site. “We think that understanding what the truth is really about–thinking for yourself, making your own decisions, being creative, not being afraid to speak what’s on your mind–can help people be strong no matter what life throws their way.”
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director.