WASHINGTON DC: US advertising lobby groups have mobilized to fight proposals that tobacco marketing should be regulated by the federal government's Food and Drug Administration. They have written to Democrat Senator Edward Kennedy, describing his plan - first mooted eleven years ago - as "unconstitutional".

The curbs outlined by Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, would limit tobacco companies to black-and-white text ads in most magazines and on store signs. They would also require additional warning messages; ban outdoor ads within 1,000 feet of schools or playgrounds; and prohibit all promotional giveaways.

The Association of National Advertisers, the American Advertising Federation and American Association of Advertising Agencies say in a letter to the committee, which is currently debating FDA regulation: "While the government has a legitimate interest in fighting the use of tobacco products by minors, the FDA's proposed regulations sweep far too broadly and result in massive censorship of truthful speech aimed at adults."

They fear that restrictions on tobacco ads would be the edge of a slippery slope to curbs on some food and beverage marketing.

Kennedy believes his legislation is the "right thing to do for America's children". He adds: "If we are serious about reducing youth smoking, FDA must have the power to prevent industry advertising designed to appeal to children wherever it will be seen by children."

Dr Elmer Huerta, the incoming president of the American Cancer Society pulled no punches when he told the committee: "FDA regulation will help us to combat the vicious marketing practices of a deceptive industry that has preyed upon our children, minorities and existing smokers who are desperately trying to kick their habit."

And Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said children were vulnerable to ads despite a 1998 agreement between 46 states and five tobacco companies to end the marketing of their products to children. He claimed the industry doubled marketing budgets and spent more than $15 billion (€11.37bn; £7.67bn) from 1998 to 2003.

Data sourced from AdAge.com; additional content by WARC staff