Welcome to the Department of Justice, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller

For immediate release --April 23, 1999.
Contact Bob Brammer, 515-281-6699

Tobacco Billboards Come Down--Pro-health Messages Go Up

Miller says anti-smoking billboards going up around Iowa starting today --many replacing billboards relinquished by the tobacco industry.

DES MOINES--. Attorney General Tom Miller unveiled an anti-smoking billboard campaign today that features pro-health messages going up on prominent billboard sites relinquished by - and paid-for by - the tobacco industry.

"Billboards have been used for decades to make smoking seem normal and appealing," Miller said. "Now we can replace those messages with a pro-health message that tells the truth: smoking is our number-one preventable killer and it is not attractive."

Miller showed designs for the pro-health billboards at a news conference at the State Capitol in Des Moines. He was joined by representatives of the State Dept. of Public Health and the Tobacco Free Iowa coalition.

"This won't solve the problem of smoking and nicotine," Miller said, "but it is a big step in the right direction and a symbol of our determination to prevent this deadly addiction."

Under terms of the nationwide agreement reached November 23, 1998, settling the States' lawsuits against the industry, tobacco companies are prohibited from using almost all outdoor advertising, including billboards, transit advertising, and signs and placards in arenas, stadiums, shopping malls, and video game arcades. Tobacco advertising signs outside retail establishments are limited to 14 square feet. The outdoor advertising ban takes effect today.

Under the settlement, states also "inherit" -- starting today -- billboard space under lease to tobacco companies for the duration of the lease. In Iowa, Miller said, fourteen prominent billboard sites with leases worth about a quarter-million dollars will have pro-health and tobacco control messages starting today and running to the end of the tobacco company lease on January 14, 2000.

Miller said a $45,000 grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) through the Iowa Department of Public health is enabling Iowa to lease another sixteen billboards for a month and to pay production costs for the billboards. Designs were provided by the CDC and other states and organizations.

Miller said Iowa is putting up pro-health messages at fourteen high-traffic billboard sites being relinquished by Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro - the brand used most by young people. "Bob, I've got emphysema," says one cowboy to another in one large billboard that just went up on 63rd St. near Grand Avenue in Des Moines.

Another billboard message shows a field of gravestones and says, "430,000 people die a year from smoking."

"We really must reach young people," Miller said. "I believe this has to be just the first salvo in a relentless counter-marketing campaign to de-glamorize and tell the truth about tobacco and smoking. It is completely unacceptable that youth tobacco usage continues to creep upward."

Some of the billboards portray smoking as unappealing. "Kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray," one says. "Sure you can smoke around me. I'll just quit breathing," says another. Another depicts a pig, a chimp and other animals puffing cigarettes and says, "It looks just as stupid when you do it."

Different designs will be rotated among the sites around the state, Miller said.

"We have to find out what works best and just keep at it," he said. "Fortunately, evidence is coming in that counter-marketing campaigns can work. California has made progress, and a few weeks ago the CDC reported a significant drop in tobacco usage by kids in grades six to eight in Florida, where there has been a major anti-smoking campaign funded by their tobacco settlement. I believe Iowa must use a significant part of our tobacco money for similar, comprehensive efforts to solve this problem. We need counter-marketing, enforcement, and compliance efforts to keep retailers from selling tobacco to kids."

Iowa's share of the settlement reached last November is $1,703,839,985.56 to be paid in installments through the year 2025. The payments will be adjusted up for inflation and will continue in perpetuity after the year 2025 as long as the tobacco companies survive.

Nationwide, the tobacco industry has agreed to pay $244 billion to the states.

Miller said it is estimated that the value of lease time remaining on 4,000 tobacco company billboards nationwide is over $100 million. In recent years, he said, the tobacco industry has been the third-largest user of billboards, spending about $300 million a year on them. Billboard spending was even higher earlier.

"The lawsuit we filed more than two years ago alleged that the tobacco industry repeatedly and systematically misled the public about the health dangers of smoking," Miller said. "This billboard project gives us a chance to tell the truth to young people and all Iowans."

Miller encouraged Iowans to contact the Consumer Protection Division of his office (515-281-5926) if they spot tobacco company billboards or transit advertising that is now prohibited.

Miller was scheduled to unveil the billboard campaign later Friday in Dubuque and Davenport.

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