Party Food?

by Bill Duesing

First broadcast on WSHU/WSUF-FM, October 18, 1996

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 of cigarette-smoking.

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 lobby Congress.

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 reporters, too.

It doesn't bode well for our democracy.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

This page and its contents are copyright © 1996-1997 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.