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WERE FIRMS `BLOWING SMOKE' ABOUT TEENS?

Tobacco companies long have touted their campaigns against teenage smoking, but industry documents now appear to back critics' charges that they're merely public relations.

"It seems to me our objective . . . is a `media event' which in itself promises a lot but produces little," wrote then-Tobacco Institute Vice President Frank Dryden in a 1979 memo released Wednesday by anti-tobacco activists.Tobacco companies insist they do not want teens to smoke, and for years have pushed public education campaigns designed to tell teenagers to avoid cigarettes and teach tobacco retailers not to sell to minors.

Anti-tobacco activists say those industry campaigns don't work, pointing to a recent increase in teen smoking and to other once-secret company documents describing plans to actually target teens, through advertising and other means.

The Tobacco Institute memos suggest the industry intended that the campaigns not actually reach teenagers, but that executives searched for ways to get the most political mileage from them.

"It is my opinion that the message should be directed to adults, not kids," wrote another institute vice president, Roger Mozingo. "After all, kids don't vote, parents do."

He suggested that the institute mail copies of its youth campaigns to "every state legislator in the country."

And Dryden advised that the campaigns emphasize that smoking is an adult decision, without mentioning that teenagers who adopt the habit risk their health. "Stay entirely away from the medical side," he wrote.

Tobacco Institute spokesman Walker Merryman had not seen the memos and did not immediately comment.

Although written in 1979, anti-smokers said the memos are significant because industry campaigns today are almost identical.

The memos show "the tobacco industry's leaders admitting to each other that their program to stop youth smoking is entirely superficial and designed to have little if any effect," anti-tobacco lawyer Clifford Douglas said.

Today's industry campaigns also avoid discussion of smoking's health risks while arguing that teens simply aren't old enough to smoke, a message psychologists say is ineffective, said Eric Solberg of Doctors Ought to Care.