[Virginia GASP]
A school project

K.H. Ginzel

                        K.H. Ginzel, M.D. (khginzel@yahoo.com), is Professor Emeritus of
                         Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Arkansas for Medical
                         Sciences.  Other papers by Dr. Ginzel are in this web site.

In a time of universal deceit,
telling the TRUTH is a revolutionary act.    - George Orwell

Testimony presented at the
San Francisco, California, November 18, 2002.

For the past half century we have been dealing with the tobacco industry in a manner that flies in the face of FACT, the fact that the overwhelming majority of adult smokers started smoking before age nineteen.  If we expect the industry  not to target and recruit youngsters as future customers and commit economic suicide in the process, as we have actually done all along, we are lying to ourselves as much as the cigarette makers are lying to us when they pledge, "We don't want children to smoke".  Government, in turn, has had a special stake in lying to everyone involved so as to perpetuate the status quo and partake, under the guise of pretexts like "rights" and "choice",  in the most profitable, albeit most deadly, business on the planet.

The consequences of this perennial mutual deceit and self-delusion are impressive:   Some 100 million deaths during the 20th century caused by tobacco's slow but merciless onslaught on multiple organ systems and bodily functions of smokers, and the prospect of a tenfold increase in mortality reaching the one billion mark by the end of the 21st century, according to Sir Richard Peto.  No wars or death camps, no naturally occurring pandemics can ever match the triumph of evil that has progressively seized human behavior.

As early as 1929 (!), U.S.Senator Reed Smoot attacked the then "current campaign promoted by certain cigarette manufacturers to create a vast woman and child market."

An article of October 1952 in the Christian Herald, SMOKERS ARE GETTING SCARED! , closes as follows:  "To continue to ignore the major suspected cause [of lung cancer] -- the excessive use of cigarettes -- would be one of the blackest social crimes of our day".

A 1963 document shows an ad featuring a boy being offered a cigarette by a wryly smiling woman (mother?), accompanied by a letter from the advertising agency touting, "There's nothing like starting them out young!"

Senator Robert F. Kennedy received a letter from a Mr. Ross who expressed his concern to him about the need for regulation of cigarette advertising.  In his reply of September 11, 1967,  Kennedy stated that, "Preventive action has become imperative,  because without it, millions of youngsters now in school will take up smoking without understanding that they are thereby purchasing a grave risk of premature death."

Examples of this sort abound.  Together with millions of confidential company documents, solicited by the courts in recent tobacco litigation, they show that really very little has changed ever since modern cigarette makers entered the commercial arena and discovered that the malleable mind of kids can readily be twisted and made compliant to serve their steadily growing financial greed.

Are we  to continue surrendering to this baleful scenario that has played out over the better part of the last century?  Or is there a way out of it?  Surprisingly, a crucial challenge, if duly recognized and acted upon, can come from that segment of the population that has suffered the brunt of the abuse but has had no vote or say in what is usually handled, not in their behalf, but strictly as a matter for adults to decide.  A case in point is the advocacy for smokefree air legislation that rarely considers the foremost need to protect children from exposure to secondhand smoke.

During the spring and fall semesters of 2001, in part assisted by nursing students from New Mexico State University,  I conducted over 100 presentations on tobacco in elementary and middle schools in Las Cruces, New Mexico, addressing about 4,000 children.  Presentations focusing on the serious harm inflicted by tobacco use centered around a graphic demonstration of collecting the smoke of a  cigarette in a transparent plastic bottle, signifying the human lungs (Proceedings of the 7th World Conference on Tobacco and Health, Autralia 1990).  Interspersed with the demo, we projected transparencies illustrating smoke composition, nicotine addiction, tobacco-related disease, immediate effects of smoking, and the hazards of  secondhand smoke.  In a second bottle placed loosely over the burning cigarette, we occasionally also collected the sidestream smoke.

We placed major emphasis on the interpretation of deceptive cigarette advertisements and smoking by movie stars.  We conducted several focus group sessions to assess kids' reactions.  We developed two FLYERS, one disclosing the tobacco industry's true intentions, the other one urging parents not to smoke indoors.  Responses by teachers, school nurses, and students were uniformly enthusiastic and convinced us that our messages were clearly received and understood.

Invariably, children reasoned with compelling logic that, if tobacco were really as bad as we told them it is, the government would not permit its manufacture, sale, and promotion.  They stressed that marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and a host of other substances are all illegal, and that anyone caught possessing them is severely punished.  Similar arguments are often raised by opponents of local laws banning smoking in shared airspaces.  Eventually, we had to explain why the federal government does not protect children and nonsmokers from a legal product that  kills almost half a million Americans each year.  Boston Globe columnist, Ellen Goodman, probably got closest to the truth when she referred to that "wholly owned subsidiary of the tobacco industry known as the United States Congress."

By showing pictures and quoting from industry documents, we were able to convince the children that they are the prime target of the tobacco industry.  By analyzing with them deceptive cigarette advertisements, promotional strategies and sponsorships, we made them fully aware of the fact that if they start smoking, they are smoking not of their own free will, but because the tobacco industry has been insidiously manipulating their behavior.  By smoking, they are clearly NOT doing "their own thing", as they tended to believe, but have become puppets of a largely unregulated killer industry.  If this message were spread across the globe, we believe that most young people would probably refuse to offer themselves as easy victims.  Utopia or not, by not smoking, they could indeed command the power to virtually shut down tobacco business worldwide.  I am not aware of any other school program which deals with tobacco in this totally honest and uncompromising fashion.

Over the years, we all have been playing an unending game -- call it "enabling" or call it  "co-dependency" -- whose outcome is counted in millions of youngsters starting, and millions of smokers dying from, tobacco use.  The deceitful question asked with nauseating persistency in this game of life and death  has been:  "How do we stop the tobacco companies from targeting our kids?"  This question has comfortably concealed the reality that no intervention of any kind can be expected to fully protect children from being targeted by Big Tobacco.  Therefore, if government and society honestly want kids not to smoke, the only rational solution is to ban the commercial marketing of tobacco products.

The least that Congress ought to do, short of banning tobacco commerce altogether, is to make the workplace and public places across the nation smokefree and outlaw the multi-billion dollar promotion of tobacco products that is unmistakably aimed at recruiting children as future customers.  In fact, cigarette advertising and promotion are the single most important predictor of smoking experimentation.

However, the prospects for this to happen are presently slim. On October 16, 2002, the United States, Germany and Japan firmly rejected demands that a proposed global anti-smoking treaty, negotiated among WHO's 192 member states as part of the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, include a call to ban advertising. The same nations also reject banning smoking in places shared with nonsmokers. The U.S. insists that an advertising ban would violate the U.S. Constitution's free speech guaranties. The reference is obviously to "Commercial Speech" that was placed under the protection of the First Amendment as late as in the 1970s. In the case of cigarette advertising and its ultimate consequences, it protects the right to kill.

To put all the blame for the greatest public health tragedy, and the most infamous public health scandal in human history, on the tobacco cartel is blatantly disingenuous.  Big Tobacco is faithfully living up to the precepts of capitalism.  As stressed by Milton Friedman, corporations have only one social responsibility, that is to make as much money for their stockholders as possible.  On the other hand, capitalism can only work to the benefit of society if governments accept and exercise the responsibility to protect their peoples from possible excesses and abuses of corporate behavior.  Failing to do this, governments become accomplices to the crimes against humanity perpetrated by predatory corporations.

The tobacco industry differs from any other type of manufacturer in that its products are inherently defective, i.e., harmful when used as intended, and cannot be made safe by any stretch of the imagination.  Hence, the only way to prevent injury or death is to discontinue the marketing of tobacco products.  Potentially, the federal government should be able to invoke the "Commerce Clause" of Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution stopping the interstate trade of a dangerous drug, tobacco.  What is so disconcerting is that no unified voice has yet come to the fore demanding that the unconscionable slaughter, the sacrifice of millions of victims on the altar of profit and greed, be finally brought to an end.

See these other papers by Dr. K. H. Ginzel:
After Some100 Million Deaths - What's Next?, Priorities 13(4), 2001
Can Children Stop Big Tobacco?, A School Project
Workplaces and Public Places Must be Made Smokefree
Protein, An Alternative Tobacco Crop

[Virginia GASP]  Added 22 May 2003