Day after day in a federal courtroom in Newark, New Jersey, the ghastly story of the tobacco industry and lung cancer is being told. The case involves Rose D. Cipollone who died in 19E4 at age 59 from smoking cigarettes since she was 16. Her husband is suing, on her behalf, Philip Morris, P. Lorillard and the Liggett Group.
The New York Times is not covering this nearby Newark trial, notwithstanding regular coverage by its arch-rival, the Washington Post. The Times takes ample amounts of cigarette advertising and, not long ago, actually solicited such ads in the Tobacco and Candy Journal with the slogan “Life Styles are Made not Born.” Neither the Wall St. Journal nor other national press chains are covering this trial. They are making lots of money taking large cigarette ads, however.
There are other contrasts. While Ronald and Nancy Reagan are telling young Americans to say “no” to hard drugs, they have never uttered a word publicly advising these youngsters to say no to tobacco. In the nineteen forties, Ronald Reagan appeared in an ad endorsing Chesterfields, saying “My cigarette is the mild cigarette.
Tobacco smoking claims 300,000 American lives a year; hard drugs take 25,000 lives annually. The federal government under Reagan has spent about $25 billion since 1981 in a futile attempt to stop the drug trafficking which is larger than ever. Yet Reagan refuses to increase the measly $3 million annual budget which the Surgeon General has to launch anti-smoking programs.
The tobacco industry spends approximately $2 billion a year on cigarette advertising. This comes out to $250,000 an hour, twenty four hours a day, to persuade people to smoke, continue smoking and smoke a particular brand. This massive bombardment receives no counter ads. The only media that can carry the story of tobacco’s ravages and the machinations of the tobacco corporations is that which calls itself news, feature and commentary.
As the Columbia Journalism Review wrote several years ago, the mass media have been excessively silent on the corporate merchandisers of this cancer scourge. Whatever indifference or inhibitions the media have had about tobacco coverage, a trial is a great excuse to start reporting. What cigarette company can accuse a newspaper or magazine of “crusading” when it is just covering a trial?
Documents and testimony arising out of this wrongful death lawsuit in Newark are filling out a long-undisclosed internal history of the power plays. A confidential memo by Frederick Panzer, vice president of the Tobacco Institute in 1972, said that the industry’s “holding strategy” consisted of “creating doubt about the health charge without actually denying it; advocating the public’s right to smoke; and encouraging objective scientific research as the only way to resolve the question of health hazard.”
This latter tactic kept the American Medical Association quiet for years while it was spending tobacco industry grants for further research to demonstrate what thousands of research findings worldwide already had demonstrated. At the trial the judge and jury heard testimony about the firs: major study of cigarette advertisements over a 50 year period which found 60 percent of them projecting a direct or symbolic “healthiness” message.
Other testimony revealed a document by Philip Norris scientist, J.L. Charles, written 1980 linking the nicotine content of cigarettes with the “continued well being of our cigarette business since /it/ has been cited often as ‘the reason for smoking’.” Nine years earlier, another company scientist, William L. Dunn Jr., told an industry gathering why people smoke: “the cigarette should be conceived not as a product but as a package. The product is nicotine.”
Lawyers for the plaintiff are arguing that smoking is addictive and that the cigarette companies knew about and promoted such a lethal dependency for which they should share some responsibility.
The Advocacy Institute in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit citizen training center, has described April 1988 as a “month of great opportunity for smoking control advocates.” The UN’s World Health Organization is sponsoring the world’s first “No Tobacco Day”. The law requiring an airline smoking ban on flights of two hours or less will go into effect in April as will a strong New York City law restricting smoking in many enclosed public places including taxi cabs, indoor sports arenas, schools, and restaurants and stores above a certain size.
Maybe the press will awaken and begin to print more stories about this burgeoning battle between the non-smoking forces and-the forces of nicotine. A lot of preventable lung Cancer and heart disease is at stake.