New gimmick

in a bid to improve its public image, us tobacco giant Lorillard Tobacco Company has launched a nationwide smoking prevention programme for the youth. Under the national tobacco settlement that was reached last November by 46 us states and territories and the major players of the tobacco industry, the latter has committed to a multi-billion dollar youth smoking prevention programme

The new programme comprises a series of national broadcasts and print advertisements directed at both children and parents, and includes websites, educational materials and tours to various us cities. It encourages parents to talk to their children about the hazards of smoking tobacco. "Parents play a critical role in a child's development and, so as a part of this campaign, we have turned to parents and teen experts to give information on how to talk to their children,' said Ron Milstein, director of Lorillard's Youth Smoking Prevention Program.

Lorillard's new campaign is seen as part of the tobacco industry's ongoing effort to overhaul its image. Last year, Brown & Williamson Tobacco changed its corporate site to put a "friendlier face' of the industry. Philip Morris, another tobacco giant, recently launched a new website focusing on public health education, which, though applauded by some, has also been criticised by many. It was alleged that Philip Morris was attempting to legitimise itself by pretending to collaborate with the public health community.

But these are desperate times. In recent years, not only have tobacco companies been asked to pay billions of dollars as compensation to the victims of smoking and have had major restrictions imposed on the way they market and promote their products, but their credibility among the public has also taken a beating.

Lorillard itself was under a lot of fire when it was uncovered, during the tobacco trials, that its officials had for long known that their customers smoked because they were addicted to nicotine and high school students were the core of their customer base. Lorillard had studied ways to elevate the delivery of nicotine (referred to in the company memos as the "nicotine enrichment project') and considered developing a brand aimed at image-conscious teenagers.