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.

Apparently, no competing proposals had been solicited, raising questions about whether the contracts would be proper, given the general requirements for competition in state purchasing.

Some of the committee members felt like they'd been run over by a truck.
"When I walked out of the first meeting," says Jack Braddock, "the first guy I ran into was [tobacco lobbyist] Don Isaacson. I told him that, asfar as I was concerned, if it was going to be handled that way, I was going to write the governor, thank him for putting me on the committee, but I wasn't interested in being on a committee that had no input."

Director Dillenberg's spokesperson, Brad Christenson, says that the director and DHS decline to comment on the tobacco tax or TUPAC committee.

On September 29, a 12-page letter from Steven Duffy, an attorney with tobacco lobbyists Ridge & Isaacson, protested the Department of Health Services' rule-making procedures, the legality of the Suns contract and the department's narrow reading of legislation on tobacco-tax revenue.

Five days later, Michelle Ahlmer and Jack Braddock sent a letter to Dillenberg complaining on similar grounds.

Eventually, the dispute was picked up by the press. On October 24, Dillenberg and DHS were roundly criticized for trying to rush through the Suns and Cardinals contracts before the TUPAC committee could review its actions. It was obvious, local pundits declared, that Dillenberg had surprised the committee with news of the Suns contract because he knew that giving money--more than $600,000--to an organization run by Jerry Colangelo would be unpopular, given the debate over a publicly financed baseball stadium being built for Colangelo's Arizona Diamondbacks.

Representative Don Aldridge, Republican of Lake Havasu City, called for Dillenberg's head.

The next day, Dillenberg visited editorial boards at two local dailies. The director defended the Suns contract as exactly the kind of thing Arizonans had voted for, and argued that if there was resistance from tobacco interests, it was only an indication of how much it threatened tobacco sales.

A second wave of editorials appeared, this time questioning the motives of TUPAC members Braddock and Ahlmer.

Braddock says his connection to tobacco interests has been overblown. He doesn't smoke, has never sold tobacco products and guesses that Governor Symington appointed him simply because the governor wanted someone to represent Tucson. He says the flap over the Suns contract was a minor disagreement that has resulted in better communication between Dillenberg and the committee.

"Those contracts were not signed until after we had a meeting and said it was okay by us," he says.

In a letter that went out to the entire state Legislature, Michelle Ahlmer expressed shock that her ties to the tobacco industry would be considered a conflict of interest. "Outside of retailers who sell nothing buttobacco products," she wrote on November 7, "retailers do not depend on tobacco sales of any kind as the lifeblood of their business."

Dr. David Nielsen, the ear surgeon on TUPAC, has another view. "It'spretty obvious that the people who have been selected to serve on the committee are there to represent the interests that put them there. I think that's not a good idea," he says.

Professor Stanton Glantz has traveled extensively, studying tobacco-control programs and tobacco-industry tactics. He calls Arizona's antismoking contract with the Phoenix Suns "one of the smartest, most innovative programs I've seen anywhere in the world. It's got the highest probability of success of anything I've ever seen to reach kids."

What makes it such an effective program for children, Glantz points out, is that it doesn't focus solely on children, but on adults as well.

Children take up smoking, Glantz contends, because they perceive it as an adult activity. And as long as this perception doesn't change, even the most aggressive campaigns against smoking fall flat.

In Glantz's view, an effective marketing campaign will encourage quitting among both children and adults.

"The most effective ads," Glantz says, "contain three messages: The tobacco companies are out to get you, nicotine is addictive, and secondhand smoke kills."

When adults respond to these ads and try quitting, it changes the perception of children and teens, Glantz claims.

Unfortunately, Glantz says, the tobacco industry understands advertising very well. He contends that tobacco-industry spokespeople and legislators friendly to their cause lobby to direct antismoking campaigns solely at children. It sounds like a perfectly legitimate goal: Give money to schools for in-class presentations designed to keep kids from starting to smoke.

Glantz and other health professionals argue that the tobacco industry knows this kids-only approach is less effective than one aimed at the general population.

Dr. John Pierce of the University of California at San Diego agrees. "Curricula in schools, no matter how good they are--the effect is temporary with no long-term effect. We spent $124 million on schools over five years in California and we got no change in smoking among kids. Why? Because, meanwhile, the tobacco companies hit the streets with a marketing campaign and trinkets to counter the school program.

"It's a big mistake to target only children. The big change in California came across the board in adults. And as adults quit more frequently, it comes across to children that quitting is an adult behavior.

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