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Example 1: Media as foe

In 1988, the Oregon Smoking and Health Coalition successfully got an initiative, one that would have created the strongest state-sanctioned indoor 'no smoking ' law in the nation, on the fall election ballot. The initiative called for the prohibition of smoking in almost all indoor public places and work places.

At the beginning of the coalition's campaign, public support for the initiative and public awareness of the dangers of smoking and of breathing in second-hand smoke were high. The tobacco industry decided it probably couldn't convince the public, at this stage in the game, that tobacco use and second-hand smoke weren't dangerous. Instead, industry officials and their media advocates decided to portray public health advocates as health fanatics and their initiative as an intrusive, unfair measure that would violate smokers' right to privacy and their right to freedom of choice. The theme of their campaign: “Ballot Measure 6 just goes too far."

By the end of the tobacco industry's media campaign, it had spent millions of dollars on direct mailing and paid advertising. The industry sent out multiple letters that used a popular and well-known state Supreme Court judge as its spokesperson to more than half of Oregon's registered voters, and invested in heavy television and radio advertising in the days leading up to the election.

After the direct mailing, support for the anti-smoking initiative dropped by 15 percentage points. In addition to casting the initiative as an unfair measure, the industry distorted part of the initiative to make it look as if government officials would swoop down on unsuspecting smokers who ran businesses in their homes and punish them on their own property. With such a strong and evocative counterattack by the tobacco industry, the initiative failed.

Example 2: Media as friend

President George Bush nominated William Bennett to be in charge of the war on drugs. The day before Senate confirmation hearings of Bennett's nomination began, members representing several different tobacco control groups took out a full-page advertisement in the Washington Times. The ad issued a "drug-free challenge" to Bennett, urging him to give up his two and a half pack a day smoking habit. The loose coalition of anti-smoking activists also bought a similar ad that was aired on a local Washington radio station.

The publicity the activists purchased reached millions of people and generated more publicity for itself. A story highlighting the coalition's efforts and advertisements was picked up by the Washington Post, the New York Times, USA Today, and the Mutual Broadcasting Network. So you see, a little bit of smart media advocacy can go a long way!