We're Dying to be Number One!

Admittedly, not too many people other than network executives are arguing that watching TV will make you smart. But there are still moments that have to perplex even the most empty-headed of tube addicts.

For example, if you've been watching TV lately, you might not have known the tobacco giant Philip Morris is DEEPLY concerned with women's issues.

Maybe you're thinking, "Wait a minute, wasn't there something about how lung cancer has surpassed breast cancer as a lethal disease among women?"

"Golly, it sure is hard to see how a company spreading lung cancer among women can be that great of a friend to the fairer sex," you might add.

Settle back in that recliner and let the Philip Morris ad campaign explain it to you: Philip Morris is really involved with battered women's shelters.

That clears it all up, doesn't it?

As UK advertising professor Dennis Altman explains, these national TV ad campaigns orchestrated by tobacco companies "try to show a positive side to the public since there's been so much negative publicity."

Altman, who worked in advertising for more than 25 years before joining the faculty at UK, says that the tobacco firms "are taking a calculated risk that people will say 'gee whiz, they've [the tobacco firms] suffered enough.' After all, these companies can't go any further down in public estimation."

Apparently, whether the ads hold up under close scrutiny is about as important as whether an annoying dog with an outrageous Spanish accent can really make someone fork over their seven-layer burritos upon request.

At the same time tobacco companies are getting behind an effort to improve their image, anti-tobacco campaigns are revving up.

Anti-tobacco advertising is all over the airwaves and the Internet.

Organizations like have put out web pages, print, and TV ads focusing on statistics about tobacco-related illnesses, and federal dollars are being spent on ads highlighting teens who've decided not to smoke, and their reasons for their decision.

But hold on to your hats...there are currently no ads in local media paid for by the state of Kentucky.

After all, Kentucky is second only to North Carolina in tobacco production, and the power of the tobacco lobby in this state is second to none.

Of course, Kentucky is also number one in both youth smoking and adult smoking rates in the United States.

Kentucky Action, a non-profit tobacco prevention and control coalition representing more than 60 public health organizations, lobbied hard during the last legislative session to convince legislators to allocate some of the tobacco settlement money to prevention programs.

As the new fiscal year begins, the state will spend about $12.5 million on smoking prevention over the next two years, according to LynnCarol Birgmann, executive director of Kentucky Action.

Birgmann says, "About $5 million is going to the Department of Public Health, specifically for tobacco use prevention; approximately $5 million is earmarked for a newly established entity called Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy [ASAP], which goes to substance abuse initiatives, including tobacco. An additional $2 million goes to maternal substance abuse prevention, of which, again, tobacco is one part."

In other words, the tobacco settlement money could be used by ASAP to work on other substance abuse prevention efforts, so the money specifically set aside for tobacco prevention is a paltry $5 million over two years.

And since the money is split among three different initiatives, Birgmann wonders how the initiatives will work together: "The set-up and design of the infrastructure to coordinate the programs is a big question mark at this point."

Five million bucks isn't enough to sustain a viable anti-smoking campaign, if the latest research is any indication.

The Centers for Disease Control reports, given Kentucky's large number of smokers, the state should spend between $24 and $69 million per year on anti-smoking efforts.

Philip Palmgreen, Ph.D., professor of communication at the University of Kentucky, is an expert on anti-smoking and anti-drug campaigns. Palmgreen says, "Whether anti-smoking campaigns are effective depends on how well the campaign is conducted and what kinds of ads they use. If the campaign is well-funded and well-designed, and there's enough money to place the ads on the right radio stations and television shows to reach the intended audience, the campaigns tend to be very effective in reducing the level of teen smoking."

Birgmann agrees. "What works is comprehensive programs. Successful programs include community programs, enforcement of laws against sale of tobacco to minors, classroom education, prevention programs, cessation programs, and ad campaigns. State programs in places like Massachusetts and Florida are well funded, comprehensive, consistent, and sustainable over time, and they have had success."

The state of Massachusetts recently assessed the impact of its aggressive, seven-year, $250 million anti-smoking campaign. The results were striking: Massachusetts sixth-graders had a 70 percent decrease in smoking since 1996, and eighth-graders' smoking declined 40 percent.

Birgmann is optimistic about the future of anti-smoking efforts in Kentucky. She is especially encouraged by the steps that Kentucky took in the last legislative session. "To my knowledge, we are at least now for the first time in history going to spend state money on launching a tobacco prevention program. Finally, state lawmakers are realizing it's no longer political suicide to recognize that tobacco use is a public health issue."