Our Healthier Future Depends on Creative Talent Quitting Big Tobacco

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Article takeaways:

  • Statistics around the extent of the big tobacco problem in the U.S
  • Information on the Quit Big Tobacco coalition
  • The role creative talent has in a healthier future

Creative talent shapes our world. It captures our imagination, creating momentum for a brighter future by changing our vision of what is possible. In a world where media is omnipresent, creative talent has never been more powerful or important.

That is why the Quit Big Tobacco campaign is bringing together leading creatives, agencies and organizations to ensure that the best and brightest ideas aren’t used to promote the deadliest product on the planet: tobacco. Developed by global health organization Vital Strategies, Quit Big Tobacco is working for a world where more people are living longer, healthier lives.

Seven million people will die this year of tobacco-related diseases. At the root of this epidemic is tobacco industry advertising and marketing, a cutting-edge, multi-billion-dollar behemoth with a special focus on the world’s most vulnerable—young people, poor people and communities of color. Their goal is to get them to take their first few puffs. Once that happens, their product—continuously engineered over decades to be maximally addictive—will do the rest.

It’s a business imperative. Since they peddle a product that kills half of its users when used as intended, they need to replace the customers they kill. And the younger, the better—almost no one starts smoking as an adult. Plus, the younger they get them, the longer they can earn from them before they die.

The tobacco industry doesn’t have the creative talent to make their deadly products appeal to consumers. So, they turn to ad agencies, including some of the world’s leading firms, to create their campaigns. While deceptive cigarette advertising may seem like the stuff of the “Mad Men” era, the worst efforts of tobacco industry advertising aren’t in the past. Every hour Big Tobacco spends over $1 million on marketing in the U.S. alone. Fueled by social media and using every legal loophole, their campaigns are thriving.

Sadly, it works. And now, pushing vaping products shaped like flash drives and with fruity flavors, we’ve seen the first uptick in tobacco product use among youth in a generation in the U.S. More than 5 million kids—one in four high-schoolers—are hooked.

Ironically, these very products are the centerpiece of Big Tobacco’s desperate effort to refurbish their tattered brands as they go back to approach agencies who had long ago sworn off tobacco work. Philip Morris International, which owns Marlboro, the world’s leading cigarette brand, even bought their way into the “social good” track of the Cannes Lions advertising festival, alongside Sesame Street and U.N. Women.

Brands, agencies and creatives are now faced with an urgent choice: work for the tobacco industry to legitimize it and spread its deception or be a force for good by refusing to help place a new generation at risk for a lifetime of addiction.

The Quit Big Tobacco campaign is highlighting those ad agencies that refuse to use their creative talent toward a future where more people are sick, dying and addicted to harmful products. And it brings brands that share the same value to the table.

The Quit Big Tobacco coalition has more than 300 pledgers, including brand, advertising and PR leaders like CVS Health, Crispin Porter Bogusky, Truth Initiative, MDC Partners, Edelman, GSD&M and many more. These brand, agency and creative supporters pledge not to work with the tobacco industry, or with ad agencies that do. Together we’ve taken more than $500 million in business off the table for ad agencies that work with Big Tobacco, but more importantly, we’re giving creative agencies an opportunity to take a public stand.

There’s never been a better time for agencies to lead with their values. Generation Z and social media are putting values and social good at the center of business. They have upended markets and are abandoning brands whose business practices are bad for our shared future. Companies are responding. Recently, 200 of the world’s most important CEOs declared that corporate progress is about more than shareholder value—it is about contributing to our communities. These companies want to work with agencies who share those values. Furthermore, the next generation of creative talent doesn’t want to have a job at an agency that creates campaigns that can kill. They even rate purpose above salary. They want to put their creative talent to work for the good of our planet.

It’s time to harness the power of creative talent for a healthier future. Brands and agencies should join the Quit Big Tobacco campaign today.

Stephen Hamill

VP, Policy, Advocacy and Communications at Vital Strategies

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