The Scoop

Huff ‘n’ Puff

By Bob Harris

IN THE FIRST BREATH of fresh air a tobacco company has ever provided, Liggett has finally admitted that “cigarette smoking causes … lung cancer, heart and vascular disease, and emphysema.”

Let’s not stop there.

Maybe Liggett will also concede that the only reason they confessed was for the money–limiting their own liability via settlement, thereby making themselves more attractive as a takeover candidate.

Maybe Philip Morris will also admit that they are engaged, in the words of a Minnesota state court judge, in “an egregious attempt to hide” incriminating information about their manufacturing and marketing practices.

Maybe R.J. Reynolds will acknowledge that, as newly released documents reveal, in 1984 they made a “long-term commitment . . . to younger adult smoker programs.” After this decision, the Joe Camel ads were produced, and the number of children addicted to RJR’s death sticks increased by a factor of 50.

Maybe the ad agencies and PR flacks who whitewash tobacco will begin creating new campaigns to alert the public that cigarettes are America’s real drug problem. Maybe they’ll invent cuddly cartoon characters–Mighty Coughin’ Power Rangers, Nicotine Patch Kids, Tracheoto-Me-Elmo–to teach our kids that more than 40 times as many of our loved ones die from cigarettes as from all illegal drugs combined.

Maybe they’ll admit pouring money into “Smoker’s Rights” front groups whose only real purpose is to keep as many people addicted as possible. Maybe they’ll also admit how dopey their arguments are. (Suppose I enjoy wearing a dime bag of plutonium strapped to my left thigh; does that give me the “right” to irradiate everyone around me? Spitting on a sidewalk can be restricted, but blowing carcinogens into the air an infant is breathing is a “right”?)

Maybe the Republican Party will confess that its leading contributor is Philip Morris, and four of its top 10 supporters are tobacco companies. Maybe Bob Dole will admit that his insane comments questioning smoking’s addictive power were colored by his love for Marlboro money and frequent flights on U.S. Tobacco company jets.

Maybe Al Gore will cop to his obscene lie at last year’s Democratic convention, when he grandstanded his sister’s smoking-related death as an anti-tobacco epiphany. Maybe he’ll admit to soliciting cigarette money for years after her death, once proudly boasting to a convention of tobacco growers of his love for harvesting and rolling tobacco by hand.

Maybe the shareholders who profit from tobacco companies will realize their moral (if not legal) liability for the cancer trade. Maybe all the corporate types who deride their victims as lacking “personal responsibility” will suddenly remember that the primary purpose of forming a corporation is to evade personal responsibility.

Maybe the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, creators of “This Is Your Brain” and other ads–useless in stopping drug abuse, but great for maintaining phony Drug War hysteria–will admit that much of their funding originates with tobacco companies.

Maybe Time and Newsweek will own up to letting their own druglike dependence on tobacco ads influence their coverage of America’s tobacco holocaust for over 40 years.

Maybe public figures who glamorize smoking–Letterman, Limbaugh, Madonna, etc.–will admit they’re encouraging children to become addicted. Maybe they’ll learn from Humphrey Bogart, Steve McQueen, Groucho Marx, Arthur “Smoke ‘Em by the Carton” Godfrey, Edward R. Murrow, and several of the Marlboro Men in the ads themselves, all of whom died of lung cancer.

Maybe you storeowners who sell cigarettes will realize you’re as much to blame as the manufacturers. R.J. Reynolds needs you as badly as the Medellin Cartel needed Freeway Ricky Ross. Maybe you’ll stop selling products that kill your customers.

And maybe you smokers reading this right now will admit that you’re–putting it mildly–drug-addicted fools. Maybe you’ll get help to stop selfishly endangering others and cutting your own life short.

Or maybe that’s too much to ask.

From the April 3-9, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent

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