As more and more places in our society are declared smoke-free, it seems that
even larger and fancier cigarette billboards fill urban spaces. There's a
schizophrenic attitude toward tobacco companies in this country, illustrated
clearly by a newspaper's front page last summer. In one article, Connecticut's
Attorney General reports on the state's suit against the tobacco companies.
Connecticut is attempting to recoup health-care costs for treating indigent
smokers. Next to this, another story reports that our State Treasurer is very
pleased about how well Connecticut's investments in tobacco companies are doing.
What is going on here?
Recently, I heard a radio report on new research which shows that smoking
cigarettes is particularly harmful to teen-age girls. This report also noted the
lack of information in magazines typically read by young women about the dangers
Two examples were cited. One girls' magazine carried an article which warned
about health hazards involved in changing the papers on the bottom of a bird
cage. The article was surrounded by cigarette advertisements showing happy and
attractive young people. Although there may be real danger from the dust and
pathogens in bird droppings, I suspect that among teen-aged girls, this is a
much less serious problem than smoking is.
Another slick magazine article lists many ways for young women to protect their
health, but says nothing about not smoking. Cigarette advertising, of course,
is a major source of revenue for most magazines. We already know that their
reason for being is to make money by targeting ads to a particular audience.
These magazines avoid pointing out the most serious source of preventable
disease in this country (i.e. cigarette smoking) to their readers because their
profits depend on cigarette advertising. This may be a smart financial move for
the publication, but its effects on young women are devastating.
Cigarette-use is rising among teenagers today. Many of the high school students
I teach are so hooked that an addiction to cigarettes interferes with their
ability to pay attention in school. This situation does not bode well for their
futures, or for ours.
According to an Associated Press report, Philip Morris, the world's largest
tobacco company is one of the seven large corporations which gave at least
$100,000 to sponsor both the Republican and the Democrat Party conventions this
summer. These donations paid for many of the social activities and parties at
the conventions. The two-party political process is unlikely to criticize or be
impartial to the corporations which pay for its fun.
More recently, the newspaper headline "Corporate giants paying the expense for
debates" caught my eye. This article reported that the world's largest
cigarette maker and other monolithic corporations are also paying for the
presidential debates which were carefully limited to the two dominant parties.
A few days later WSHU reported that the same cigarette company's processed food
division would provide food for members of the press covering the presidential
debate in Hartford. The media seem unlikely to bite the corporate hand that
feeds its reporters and buys so much advertising.
Frequent reports also put Philip Morris among the largest contributors of "soft
money" to both major political parties. And of course, it spends generously to
But, since it sells over a billion dollars worth of cigarettes, beer and
processed food every week, it even has money left over to donate to arts groups,
as long as they don't support tougher anti-smoking regulations.
Because all of these activities - billboards, magazine advertisements, support
for conventions, debate sponsorships, food for journalists, lobbying, and
donations - are tax-deductible business expenses, the more a corporation spends
on these things, the less it pays in taxes.
If by buying expensive advertising, tobacco companies can insure that the
harmful effects of their addictive products are ignored in magazines, what does
it say about our political process when one company sponsors the two dominant
political parties themselves, their conventions, the debate between them and the
It doesn't bode well for our democracy.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
C1996, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT certified
organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban agriculture
projects in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwalk, CT). Their collection
of essays Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful
Future is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. This essay first appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT.
New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing