Skyline of Richmond, Virginia

Questions Remain in Government’s Anti-Cigarette Campaign

06.24.11

by Walter Brasch

The federal government has launched what may become one of the most effective propaganda campaigns in American history.

Beginning September 2012, every cigarette manufacturer must display one of nine government-approved graphics on the top half, both front and back, of every cigarette pack. Among the warnings is a picture of a pair of healthy lungs next to a pair of cancerous lungs, with the notice: “Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease.” Another warning is equally definitive: “Cigarettes cause cancer,” with a picture of rotting gums and teeth. A person with an oxygen mask is the graphic for the text, “Cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease.” Other pictures show smoke coming from a tracheotomy hole and a dead body with autopsy stitches on his chest. Other warnings, with appropriate graphics are: “Smoking during pregnancy can harm your baby,” “Tobacco smoke can harm your children,” and “Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in non-smokers.” One graphic shows a man in a T-shirt with the message, “I quit.” Cigarette manufacturers must include all nine warnings in rotation on their packs.

In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also requires that one-fifth of every print ad must include the warnings.

The FDA directive is based upon Congressional action in 2009. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which received strong bipartisan support, also prohibited cigarette manufacturers from sponsoring sports and cultural events. It further restricted tobacco companies from advertising their products on T-shirts and other clothing items.

The first cigarette ad was in the New York National Daily in May 1789. By the Civil War, cigarette ads were appearing regularly in newspapers. The tobacco industry’s own propaganda machine significantly increased full-page full-color ads in magazines during the 1930s and 1940s; a decade later, the industry was one of the first to recognize the influence of the emerging television medium. The ads not only extolled the advantages of smoking, they linked dozens of celebrities to their campaigns. Bob Hope pushed Chesterfields; Ronald Reagan wanted Americans to give Chesterfields as a Christmas gift. One popular ad even had Santa Claus enjoying a Lucky Strike. Marlboros became hugely successful with its Marlboro Man commercials that featured rugged cowboy individualism. To get the largely untapped female demographic into its sales net, cigarette companies went with what is now seen as sexist advertising. Lucky Strike wanted women to smoke its cigarettes “to keep a slender figure.” Misty cigarettes emphasized its smoke, like its women, was “slim and sassy.”

Camel cigarettes, which would eventually develop Joe Camel as its cartoon spokesman to counter the Marlboro Man, tied health, opinion leaders, and tobacco smoke. Its survey of more than 100,000 physicians of every specialty said Camels was their preferred brand.

However, by the mid-1960s, physicians had begun backing away not just from Camels but all cigarettes. A Surgeon’s General’s report in 1964 concluded there was a strong correlation between smoking and lung cancer. The following year, the Surgeon General required tobacco manufacturers to put onto every cigarette pack a warning, “Cigarettes may be hazardous to your health.”

In 1967, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that the Fairness Doctrine required TV and radio stations to run anti-smoking ads at no cost. The message was clear to the financial departments—voluntarily eliminate cigarette advertising or lose five to ten minutes of sales time every broadcast day. In 1971, the FCC banned all cigarette advertising on radio and TV.

By 2003, cigarette advertising peaked at $15 billion, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) To counter cigarette company advertising campaigns, government steadily raised cigarette taxes. State and local taxes accounted for $16.6 billion in 2008, according to the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution. Federal taxes, raised to $1.01 a pack in 2009, brought in about $8.5 billion. New York City residents pay the highest taxes per pack–$1.50 city tax, $4.35 state tax, $1.01 federal tax. The average combined tax nationwide is $5.51. Much of the money is used to develop anti-smoking campaigns.

About 443,000 deaths each year are primarily from the effects of cigarette smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new campaign aims to cut that by half. The FDA estimates there are about 46 million smokers.

It’s obvious that both tobacco manufacturer and government advertising campaigns have been effective. But there are several questions that need to be asked.

If the federal government demands health warnings on cigarette packs, why doesn’t it also demand similar warnings on other products that also carry known health risks, like liquor?

If there is so much evidence that cigarette smoke—with its tar, nicotine, and associated chemicals—poses such a high health risk, why doesn’t the federal government ban it, like it does numerous products known to be unsafe?

Does the federal government’s campaign violate the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech? This becomes an even more important question since the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that with few exceptions corporations enjoy the same rights as individual citizens.

If there is evidence that tobacco smoke is unsafe and unhealthy, and the government levies excessive taxes, why did the federal government grant $194.4 million in agriculture subsidies in 2010 and about $1.1 billion in subsidies since 2000?

Finally, if the evidence is overwhelming that cigarette smoke is dangerous, and the federal government taxes every pack but doesn’t ban cigarettes, why has it been so adamant in refusing to decriminalize marijuana, which has significantly fewer health risks than what is in the average cigarette?

[Dr. Brasch has never smoked, but respects the rights of those who do. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, a literary journalism novel about the counterculture.]

Panel Discussion on the Need for Unions

06.13.11

by John O. Mason
“I (blank) Unions” was the theme of a panel discussion held at the Starlight Ballroom, in the fourth floor of the main branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, 1900 Vine Street in Philadelphia, on Wednesday, June 01, 2011.
The discussion was sponsored by the Young Women’s committee of the Philadelphia chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW).
Emily Randle, Chair of the Young Women’s Committee of Philadelphia CLUW, began the program, saying about the committee, “We’ve been around since 2008, and we meet monthly to talk about the campaigns we’re working on, and see if we can help each other out. We also have these quarterly workshops,” covering such topics as fundraising, women running for union offices.
Randle spoke of her work with unions, and about “progressive people that I know who want to like unions and who don’t get unions, and who don’t know what we do and why we do it. They think that we’re ’big Labor,’ and they think that we’re mobby.” Randle told of how she got into the Labor movement, “through a very grass-roots effort for security guards…for me, it really changed my perspective on a lot of things, the way life is in this country, the way life is throughout the world, and it’s a message I really want to share with everyone I know, especially people who want to understand, who just haven’t been given the opportunity to talk about that.”
Melina Velis, of the Media Mobilizing Project (MMP), spoke of the group as, “a group that is dedicated to giving people, like union members, a voice and the skills to tell their own stories in the media.” Velis spoke of one of MMP’s programs, “Labor Justice Radio,” of a media training program coming up, where “We work with union members to give them the skills to produce radio pieces, and news about what’s going on in union struggles around the city and things that affect working people.”
Jackie Silver, a social worker at Temple University Hospital, was the first speaker. She was also president of Temple Allied Professionals (TAP) during the strike of workers at Temple Hospital. “I am a social worker,” she began, “and by training and by nature, you would think that we’re the first people to run around and advocate for ourselves, but we’re not, we take care of other people, we take care of our clients, but rarely do we do things that are in the best interest of us as individuals.” Professionally trained people, said Silver, are difficult to recruit into unions, because “life works for us. We have set schedules, we have offices, and we don’t tend to be what we would call ‘troublemakers’. So we don’t usually participate in unions or union activities, but I was a dues-paying member, because I come from a family of people who belonged to a union.”
Things began to change at Temple Hospital, said Silver, and “management started to do a lot of things that we thought were petty, inappropriate, things that you just shouldn’t do to workers, and we started demanding more of our rights as workers, and we’re just having the door closed right in our faces…We finally decided, ’We’re not going to take it anymore,” and she and her coworkers decided “to stand up as a group and say, ‘We’re going to demand our rights.’ We did that, and people were surprised, we got what we wanted. It was an issue of getting people to band together for a common cause.”
To Silver, a union, “is a group of people who have a lot of the same interests and needs getting together and standing tall and saying ‘we can do this’, because we can accomplish this as a group, it’s hard to do that on your own.” Silver remarked that since the strike at Temple Hospital, people learned the value of unions, that “We know those people are going to get out on the street, they’re going to mobilize people, they’re going to stand there and be heard.”
Dina Yarmus, a member of the Young Women’s Committee, spoke next. She is a member of UNITE/HERE Local 274, and active in the campaign for Earned Sick Leave in Philadelphia and the Media Mobilizing Project. An employee of the Radisson Warwick Hotel, Yarmus said the question of the need for unions “has really brought a lot of much needed attention to the question of democracy…and to whether or not a workplace is going to be a space for democracy in our society or not.”
Yarmus recalled, “I’ve worked in nonunion and union (work) hotels, my own sister works in the restaurant industry, in a nonunion workplace…(the sister) was fired from a job because a guest complained that she didn’t like the ‘sass’ that she gave her. My sister worked at this job for two years, with a nearly flawless record, and people loved her, people would ask for her to wait on them.
“Similarly,” added Yarmus, “I also think I do a good job, and I have customers that ask for me. Five times, managers the way they are, they tried to write me up on absolutely bogus accounts, (like) random guest complaints they couldn’t prove, not able to do three jobs at one time, absolutely bogus nonsense they couldn’t prove. Five times they tried to do that. And each time, because I had a union, I was able to organize (her) coworkers, to fight back, to prove there was no basis for that. They had to throw it out, and I still have my job today, a job that, with thirty hours a week, I have full health care coverage; a job that has a pension for when I retire, that I invested in after five years; a job where I have the ability to fight issues that may come up, if they’re unjust.”
It is not common, said Yarmus, to find unions in the hotel industry or other low-wage work; “Are we going to have workplaces in this country,” she asked, “be democratic places, places where we exercise democracy? Are they going to be places where people fight people can fight unfair staffing levels (and) getting fired on the spot, (and) people fight for health care in the context of working for multi-million dollar corporations? Are they going to be able to fight for retirement plans? Are they going to be able to fight for decent wages? I think they should be able to, and I think that’s why a union is relevant at the moment, and has been.”
Yarmus said that union members could build on the history of the struggle of the Labor movement, adding, “The history we benefit from is from a time when the Labor movement in this country fought for the interests of an entire class of people, and an entire standard of living. Think about what you might benefit from, unemployment benefits for when you lose your job, welfare rights, public education, child labor laws, Social Security, weekends, forty hour work weeks, health care coverage, pensions or any type of retirement plans, health and safety standards, OSHA, anything like that. All of that wasn’t just given to anyone. Those were all things that people fought for, and the Labor movement was at the forefront for all those struggles.
“Labor unions are under attack in the United States,” added Yarmus, “and internationally, but there’s a reality that Labor unions, as we know them today, and in the next ten years, might not exist. They’re under attack, we see what happened in Wisconsin.”
Megan Malachi, who is active in organizing her fellow charter school teachers, followed. She has been working with the Alliance of Charter School Employees, which is affiliated with the AFT and is a teacher at the Media Technology Charter School. “I’m …in the process,” she said, “of forming a union (in her charter school), we don’t have our union yet.” Malachi and her colleagues “have been doing this for about seven months, and it’s been extremely challenging I work at a place where I’m what you would call an ‘at-will’ employee, so…I basically have no rights, I can be fired at the whim of the administration, for anything they feel like I’m doing incorrectly. I really don’t have any type of recourse to fight for myself, as people who are in a union do.
“At my school,” added Malachi, “we also deal with a lot of professional disrespect. From day to day, our job descriptions change, we can be told ‘you need to do this, I need you to cover this class, I need you to stay late at night until six or seven o’clock to handle some type of student activity’ that you never signed up for. For lack of a better term, it’s just a really big mess.”
After she joined the Alliance of Charter School Employees, Malachi said, “I found there were a lot of things about unions that I didn’t know.” One of the fallacies about teachers’ unions, she said, “is that teachers’ unions keep bad teachers around. I found that’s really not true at all. I think the biggest thing that keeps bad teachers around is the failure of administration, and the fact that they don’t go through the process to hold those bad teachers accountable.”
Questions were taken from the audience.