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Davis to Release Anti-Tobacco Ads Killed by Wilson;
Health: Governor takes part in screening of two hard-hitting spots prepared in mid-'90s. But industry contends one is no longer accurate.;


Gov. Gray Davis on Wednesday launched a new state-funded television broadside against the tobacco industry by releasing two anti-tobacco ads killed by his Republican predecessor.
The two spots bottled up by the Pete Wilson administration in the mid-1990s are among the most hard-hitting anti-tobacco ads ever produced by the state.
Wilson's aides pulled one of the ads off the air in 1995 after a tobacco company threatened to sue. The second one, entitled "Insurance," has never aired.
While Wilson's aides said in 1996 that they were displeased with the ad, anti-tobacco activists charged then that the decision not to air it was evidence that Wilson was going soft on the tobacco industry.

"The time has come to tell the truth," said Davis, who unlike Wilson, embraced the anti-tobacco campaign by appearing at a news conference to screen the spots for reporters.

But the "Insurance" ad, produced in 1995, may no longer be accurate.

The commercial notes that although the tobacco industry downplays the ill effects of smoking and has denied that nicotine is addictive, two tobacco companies control insurance subsidiaries that grant discounts to nonsmokers on their premiums.

"Say," the ad concludes, "what do those tobacco guys know that they aren't telling you?"

The commercial doesn't identify the two companies. But Davis administration officials--and materials explaining the ad--identified the conglomerates as Loews Corp. of New York and BAT Industries. Loews still controls Lorillard Tobacco and an insurance company, but last year BAT spun off its insurance holdings, which included Farmers Insurance. Farmers is now owned by a Swiss company.

"If they're referring to British American Tobacco, they're wrong," said Joe Helewicz, spokesman for Brown & Williamson Tobacco, a British American Tobacco affiliate.

Susan Kennedy, a top Davis administration official, said the commercial's release would be delayed until it can be verified or changed.

The other Wilson-era ad that Davis intends to air features tobacco industry executives testifying before a congressional hearing early in the 1990s that they do not believe tobacco is addictive. It concludes with a narrator asking: "Do they think we're stupid?"

Davis released several other ads, including two produced as part of Massachusetts' anti-cigarette campaign and others made by an ad agency hired by California. Davis said he is reviewing other spots and will release some or all of them once they are vetted by lawyers.

Davis said most of them are intended to dissuade teenagers from smoking. Two commercials feature boys whose fathers died from tobacco-related illnesses.

"These are not actors. These are real kids. All these ads tested very well among teens," Davis said.

Despite the mix-up over the "Insurance" ad, anti-tobacco leaders lauded Davis for releasing the commercials.

"It's a huge step forward for the campaign," said Stanton Glantz, a medical school professor at UC San Francisco who had been highly critical of Wilson's handling of California's anti-tobacco campaign. "The release of the ads is a strong statement by this administration."

The campaign is paid for by a 25-cent per pack tax on cigarettes imposed by voters when they approved Proposition 99 in 1988. That tax raises about $400 million a year, most of which is spent on anti-tobacco efforts.


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