Ask First, It's the Law
Ask First, It's the Law was Philip Morris program known inside PM as "It's the Law", or simply ITL. It was an early "youth smoking prevention" program that claimed to address the problem of youth access to tobacco in retail stores. ITL involved handing out signs to retailers that instructed the retailers to request identification from patrons to verify age prior to cigarette purchases.
The tobacco companies portray such youth-oriented programs publicly as an effort at corporate social responsibility, but in fact use these programs to minimize and obstruct legislated public health policies to reduce smoking.
Tobacco industry documents on "It's the Law"
Industry documents about PM's ITL program indicate PM used the program to influence legislators and as a shield against legislation.
A 1993 Philip Morris (PM) internal email by Joshua Slavitt (PM issues manager) reveals that PM used its "responsible youth marketing activities" to convince Nevada's governor to appoint tobacco lobbyists to serve on the state's Tobacco Task Force, the group charged with reducing youth smoking in the state. Slavitt writes, "Anti groups are outraged...Examples like this make it imperative that we move forward in finalizing our plans to roll out the enhanced ITL [It's The Law] campaign as well as to respond to the upcoming Surgeon General's report which will focus on tobacco industry marketing activities and youth." Slavitt wrote,
In Nevada, the tobacco industry succeeded in becoming participants on a
working group established by the Governor. Anti-smoking groups are outraged. In petitioning the Governor to allow us to participate, our lobbyists and those
from the retail community cited our responsible youth marketing activities. Examples like this make it imperative that we move forward in finalizing our plans to roll out the enhanced ITL [It's The Law] campaign as well as to respond to the upcoming Surgeon General's report which will focus on tobacco industry marketing activities and youth.[Italicized emphasis added]
A 1995 memo sent to David Laufer, Communications Director at Philip Morris, shows an intent to use PM's "It's the Law" (youth access) program to oppose a retail fee to fund monitoring of tobacco sales to youth:
We may try to use "It's The Law" spokespeople in Alabama to combat proposed retail fee which will be used to hire more enforcement personnel for crackdown on sales to minors.
A 20-page report from 1990 from Philip Morris says a purpose for the tobacco industry's "It's the Law" program was to "undercut" public health legislation introduced at the time by federal legislators Waxman and Kennedy. It also reveals that the industry's use of "It's the Law" succeeded in convincing a major newspaper to support the tobacco industry:
The Tobacco Institute launched major advertising and education programs "It's the Law" to stop individuals under 18 from smoking. It supports a legal smoking age of 18...In part, this is intended to undercut the Waxman and Kennedy bills. There has been tremendous dialogue on TV and in the press pro and con this action. The motives of the industry have been questioned. The Chicago Tribune, (December 26) states that the industry is behaving in a way that warrants praise, not condemnation.
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