Where There's Smoke

There are Friends of Tobacco. And antismoking advocates worry that behind-the-scenes machinations may water down a state campaign to discourage teen smoking.

The UnMarlboro Cowboy holds up a photograph of what was once the inside of someone's mouth--a row of badly stained lower teeth, cancerous gums and the swollen base of a tongue. The bloody, disembodied mess is part of a brochure meant to shock teenagers about the dangers of chewing tobacco.

Dip or chew, the brochure warns, and you, too, could lose chunks of your head to a surgeon's knife.

The cowboy, a.k.a. Don Morris, doctor of education, puts down the brochure and looks for another, sifting through the collection of antitobacco materials that takes up much of one room in his north Scottsdale home. Since 1990, the former professor has been employed as the executive director of Arizonans Concerned About Smoking, a nonprofit organization that sends Morris in a cowboy hat and a bola tie to Valley schools to spread his antismoking message.

Morris picks up a poster showing professional baseball player Bill Tuttle--on the left, he's in uniform, circa 1959, his cheek distended by a vast wad of chew. On the right, the same man's head has become a nightmare of swollen flesh, rows of stitches and medical tubing, the result of a 131U2-hour cancer operation which removed the largest malignant mouth tumor his doctors had ever seen.

"Gruesome, isn't it?" Morris says as he hands over the poster. He can't spare samples of everything he gives to students--he has to have enough for the kids themselves.

Like other antitobacco activists, Morris operates on a limited budget and with limited effect. The combined efforts of dozens of health agencies in the state, Morris says, can't begin to compete with a tobacco industry that yearly inundates the nation with billions of dollars in advertising.

In Arizona, however, all of that was supposed to change with the passage of Proposition 200 in 1994.

The ballot measure raised taxes on cigarettes to 40 cents a pack, and earmarked the additional tax revenue for indigent health care and what promised to be a state-of-the-art antitobacco media campaign. Millions of dollars would be collected from smokers to do on a statewide scale what Don Morris and his bola tie had been doing locally for years.

Morris himself was rewarded for his dedication by Mark Killian, speaker of Arizona's House of Representatives, who appointed the UnMarlboro Cowboy to the Tobacco Use Prevention Advisory Committee (TUPAC), which oversees Proposition 200 spending on health education.

But Morris and other members of the health-education community fear that Proposition 200 is in trouble. The measure's opponents, antismoking advocates say, haven't stopped fighting the initiative despite its passage by Arizona voters. Among other things, those advocates charge that some of TUPAC's members are legislators who were openly opposed to the tobacco-tax proposition, as well as private citizens with ties to the tobacco industry.

Those advocates also claim the tobacco industry has been behind efforts to discredit Jack Dillenberg, director of the Department of Health Services, in regard to contracts he negotiated with the Phoenix Suns and the Arizona Cardinals for an antismoking media campaign.

And, the advocates claim, political pressure has already compelled DHS to dilute its antitobacco message and shift its focus, perhaps lessening the potential effect.

It's a familiar list of charges, say health professionals who monitor the tobacco industry on a national basis. Tobacco-tax measures in California, Massachusetts and Michigan have produced a similar litany of political battles. Arizona's talent for internecine warfare, however, has activists taking note.

"I thought it was bad in California," says Dr. Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, "until I came to Arizona and saw what was going on here."

Almost immediately after Proposition 200 passed in 1994, lawmakers who had opposed it announced their intention to gut the program.

Not only had Arizona voters raised taxes on tobacco by bypassing the state Legislature, but those funds were earmarked for specific purposes. Voters had infringed on lawmakers' single greatest power: the ability to spend taxpayer money as they see fit. And there's nothing that seems to anger some members of Arizona's part-time Legislature more.

"I'd repeal it if I could, personally," Senate President John Greene said last January. "It's not slamming the public, that they don't know what's good for them, but how do you expect them to make a rational choice with all these commercials that they got barraged with?"

The day after his comments appeared in local newspapers, Greene was spotted at a Phoenix Suns game using the seats of a Philip Morris lobbyist.

Legislators introduced two bills that month which would have effectively killed the measure. One proposed to delay spending cigarette taxes until a study of unspecified duration was completed. A second bill, sponsored by Representative Jeff Groscost, Republican of Mesa, simply proposed to dump the revenue from the tax into the state's general fund.

"I don't know why legislators react this way to voter-approved initiatives," says state Representative Susan Gerard of Phoenix, who has frequently defended the proposition.

Proponents of the tobacco tax felt that Groscost's bill posed such a threat that they asked former senator Barry Goldwater to appear before the House Ways and Means Committee last January.

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