President Clinton shared his weekly radio address Saturday with a former tobacco industry lobbyist who delivered a blunt message: The industry needs young smokers to replace the customers that its products kill.
Victor Crawford, 63, once a lobbyist for the Tobacco Institute, joined the president in the Oval Office to endorse Clinton’s view that a barrage of manipulative advertising is recruiting a new generation of nicotine addicts.
Crawford, now associated with the American Cancer Society and is himself suffering from cancer, delivered a blunt and personal message.
“For several years I protected the cigarette industry from anybody who wanted to restrict smoking,” he said. “I fooled a lot of people, and kids, I fooled myself, too. I smoked heavily and I started when I was 13 years old. And now in my throat and in my lungs where the smoke used to be, there’s a cancer that I know is killing me.”
Clinton this week announced a package of regulatory restrictions intended to make cigarettes less available to young people and restrict the glamorous images the industry uses to penetrate the youth market.
“Teenagers just don’t ‘happen’ to smoke,” he said. “They’re victims of billions of dollars of marketing and promotional campaigns designed by top psychologists and advertising experts.”
“Billboards and ads in teen magazines show rugged men and glamorous women lighting up, and blissful couples sharing their cigarettes,” he said. “The message is, smoking is sexy; it will make you more attractive; it will make you happier.”
Clinton said the aim of such campaigns is to addict teenagers to nicotine and create lifetime smokers. And he noted that while cigarettes are legal in the United States, their sale to minors is illegal.
“So let’s end the hypocrisy of pretending that while sales to teens are illegal, marketing to teens is legal,” he said. “Let’s stop pretending that a cartoon camel in a funny costume is trying to sell to adults, not children.”
Crawford said that for about five years in the 1980s he was part of a well-organized campaign that used “some of the smartest people in America” to figure out “how to get you to smoke.”
“As tobacco kills off people like me, they need kids like you to replace me,” Crawford said.
Clinton’s plan would ban cigarette vending machines and forbid makers from sponsoring sports events and advertising their brands on sportswear. It also calls for cigarette ads in magazines with a large teen readership to be deglamorized.
Speaking to reporters outside the White House, Crawford applauded the president’s actions and predicted they will start a running battle with the tobacco industry that will take years to resolve.