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Teens take on tobacco with new TV ads

From the folks who brought you the kid in the ski mask and the crowd of teenagers promising, "You'll be hearing a lot from us," now comes the second round of television ads in the state's in-your-face anti-smoking campaign.

Starting today, the state airs a new series of television spots _ one featuring a Pinellas County high school junior _ designed to grab teens and offend a few adults.

In the ads, two teenagers place surprise phone calls to movie producers, magazine editors and vending machine owners to talk about the effects of tobacco on young people. The pair spend a lot of time getting hung up on, scrambling to get past flustered secretaries and getting transferred into oblivion.

But they do get the message across.

Think of Michael Moore's Roger & Me, without the cars. Think of the Jerky Boys, without the malice.

"They wanted us to have fun with it, but there was a message," said one of the teens in the ads, 17-year-old Jared Perez, a junior at Palm Harbor University High School. "This was not completely a prank-call style. We told them who we were and why we were calling."

The ads are part of the state's $25-million annual anti-tobacco campaign, paid for with money from the landmark tobacco settlement. The campaign is designed to stop teen smoking, so the target audience is one that grew up on music videos, Jim Carrey and Beavis and Butthead _ not their parents.

"You can't just say "Don't smoke; it's bad for you,' " said Carlea Bauman, spokeswoman for the Florida Pilot Program on Tobacco Control. "We want to make rebellion against tobacco supporters just as cool and attractive to teens as smoking is supposed to be."

The television spots are done by a big-time ad agency, Crispin Porter and Bogusky, but many of the ideas came directly from Florida teens who were part of a recent anti-smoking summit in Haines City. They rejected the agency's pitch for a campaign based on anger and replaced it with one now dubbed the Truth Campaign. The aim is to combine facts and stats with attitude, edginess and humor.

In one new ad, Jared Perez and Josh Johnson of Palm Beach County dial up an advertising agency that promotes cigarettes. A dutiful secretary puts them through to the ad executive.

"Hi, this is Jared. Uh, I'm here with my friend Joshua. We have a message for you: We just wanted to congratulate you on being such a successful tobacco advertising company . . . ."


"Hello?" Jared looks more amused than surprised. "Helloooooo."

As the screen shows the Truth logo, Josh is heard to say, "Should we call him back?"

Josh and Jared's spots were filmed in New York late last month; it would have been illegal to tape record phone conversations in Florida. The two teens spent a full work day making 20-30 calls without a script. In one call, they left messages for Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, suggesting that he promote a warning label on movies that show characters smoking. In another, they called the office of Titanic director James Cameron, whose film features its glamorous young leads smoking.

The ads clearly are not for everyone. Jacqueline Miller of St. Petersburg, president of the Florida Smokers' Rights Association, wrote to Gov. Lawton Chiles last month to let him know what she thought about the campaign. An earlier spot featured a mask-clad teen making terroristlike demands of tobacco companies.

"When I see kids in ski masks and hear about kids making prank calls, that disturbs me more than seeing some kid puffing on a Marlboro," Miller said Tuesday. "I think these ads are a waste of money."

Jared said he had no trouble defending the phone calls and the ads.

"It's instructive to see fellow teens getting the runaround or getting hung up on," he said. "We are getting manipulated, but when we try to talk to them about it, they can't stand up and defend what they're doing."