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.

"In Sydney," says the Australian native, "we saw a big drop in the first year [of a similar tax initiative]. Second year, a continued drop. Third year, we were told to focus on children, and the effect disappeared."

"The group you can have the most impact on is the 18- to 25-year-olds," says Glantz. "That's not to say you don't want to have a youth component, but it's stupid to focus solely on youth."

Pierce reports that in California, the Proposition 99-funded media campaign which began in 1990 resulted in a 12 percent drop in tobacco-product sales and no increase in teen smoking--even though teen smoking went up in the rest of the country. Both Glantz and Pierce say that results would have been even better if initial, hard-hitting advertisements and slogans hadn't been supplanted by diluted replacements, and if Governor Pete Wilson hadn't diverted millions from health-education accounts. Each diversion has been found illegal by California courts.

Glantz claims that the same sort of tactics are being used against Arizona's program while it's still in its infancy. Already, he says, Arizona's Department of Health Services has bowed to political pressure, rejecting slogans like "Be Tobacco Free" for what he believes is a more vague "Be Smart. Don't Start" motto.

As yet, it is not clear how much effect this purported political pressure has had.

Last week, DHS officials and advisers awarded a $5.5 million antismoking advertising contract to the Riester Corporation, which will design electronic and print ad campaigns as well as programs for schools. The award had the support of Dillenberg and has drawn negative response from at least one legislative opponent of the tobacco tax.

Only the ads themselves will show the overall thrust of the media campaign.

"The Tobacco Institute does not want to see kids smoke," says Steven Duffy, who is sitting in the book-lined conference room of the law firm Ridge & Isaacson on North Central Avenue. The firm is registered as a lobbyist for the cigarette manufacturer's trade association based in Washington, D.C.

"Given that they don't want kids to smoke, that's where the money should be directed. The best way to do that is to give it to the people who know how to teach children, namely schoolteachers," he says.

Duffy's letter to Jack Dillenberg claiming that the Phoenix Suns contract was procured illegally has had a great effect on the Department of Health Services, observers say. Duffy downplays its influence. His firm simply saw an abuse of power, he says, and acted accordingly.

Although DHS responded to most of the charges in his letter, Duffy claims that the department hasn't answered all his points in a satisfactory way, and the firm is considering a lawsuit.

Duffy says his interest in the Suns contract is purely procedural. "I'm not here to tell you that having a contract with the Suns generally is a good idea or a bad idea. I don't have an opinion on that. We raised the issue of the Suns contract only in the sense of the way, the process, in which it came to be. And we never said one word on the substance of the contract."

He acknowledges that his firm has a special interest in what DHS decides to do with the health-education money. "There's no secret we represent the Tobacco Institute," he says. "And, kind of by analogy, the taxpayer, when it comes right down to it."

Duffy adds: "I think tobacco is a legal product. It has been a legal product since before this was a country. I think our representation is legal and correct, and I don't apologize for it at all."

In response, of course, antismoking advocates quote health statistics: 400,000 deaths each year in the United States because of tobacco use. Tobacco is blamed in 21 percent of all heart disease deaths, 87 percent of lung cancer deaths and 30 percent of cancer deaths.

"Tobacco is not like anything else," says Dr. David Nielsen. "It is the No. 1 health problem in the nation."

Bruce Samuels, the Phoenix attorney who has studied tobacco-industry tactics with Dr. Glantz, says that focusing on procedural issues, such as the method for awarding the Suns-Cardinals contracts, is a common way that tobacco lobbyists take attention away from what really concerns them: effective media campaigns.

"Now that the tobacco tax is being collected, [the tobacco industry] could care less about the money going to hospitals and doctors. That, to them, has no impact on tobacco sales. What they're worried about is health-education money," Samuels says.

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