Potesters jeer sponsor of exhibit

December 11, 1990|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Evening Sun Staff

The chained, 15-foot statue is a look-alike of the Statue of Liberty, except for a cigarette in her raised right hand and a giant pack of cigarettes under her left arm.

"This is Lady Nicotina," said T.R. Neslund, executive director for the International Commission for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Drug Dependency. "Nicotine is the drug that addicts you; that's what puts you in slavery."

Lady Nicotina stood outside the Convention Center yesterday as anti-smokers protested the sponsorship of the Bill of Rights tour by Philip Morris Co. Inc., the nation's largest cigarette manufacturer. A plastic bag containing a year's supply of cigarettes for an average smoker sat at the bottom of the $10,000 statue.

The Bill of Rights exhibit opened here Sunday. On opening day, 3,000 people saw the 15,000-square-foot, multimedia, high-tech exhibit, which features an original copy of the document. More than 1,500 people walked through the exhibit yesterday.

After the free exhibition completes its stay in Baltimore today, it moves on to Morristown, N.J. Eventually, the 16-month tour is to cover all 50 states.

Taggarty Patrick, a spokeswoman for Philip Morris, which also makes gelatin desserts, powdered drinks and cheeses, said the exhibit has drawn 140,000 people at stops so far on the 26,163-mile tour and 3 million Americans have called a toll-free number for a replica of the Bill of Rights.

Yesterday, outside the center where the stature was unveiled, Neslund said Philip Morris has pumped $60 million into the tour, using "a smoke screen" of patriotism and altruism and "deceptive slogans and advertising tricks-of-the-trade" to continue to sell its tobacco products and recruit new smokers, mainly children.

"The underlying interest is to increase the millions of dollars in revenue from criminal tobacco sales to Maryland children each year," he said.

Inside the exhibit, Patrick denied the charges.

She said the tour has nothing to do with promoting the company's products, but instead "is a celebration" of the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, which was ratified Dec. 15, 1791.

The group's opposition is an example of "the beauty" of the document, which guarantees civil liberties and allows different viewpoints, she said.

"We don't necessarily agree with them [the protesters], but the Bill of Rights gives all of us the right to express our viewpoints," she said.

ICPA has followed the exhibition since it began in October, and plans to do so until it ends in Richmond, Va., in February 1992. XTC The group estimates that during the course of the tour 500,000 Americans will die from tobacco-related diseases.

The current death tally is 62,000 since the tour started, ICPA said.

Neslund said 6,000 Marylanders and 390,000 Americans die each year from tobacco-related diseases.

The tobacco-related deaths are equivalent to "three jumbo jets crashing every day with no survivors," he said.

The protesters said the impact of tobacco is seen in World Health Organization projections that 2.5 million people will die worldwide in 1990 from tobacco-related diseases and 50,000 to 75,000 non-smokers will die from second-hand smoke.

"This is not the Jell-O pudding, Cracker Barrel company they would like you to believe," said Regina Carlson, executive director for the New Jersey Group Against Smoking Pollution. "This company lies to us. This company addicts people."

Carlson said 72 percent of the company's profits are generated by cigarette sales.

Neslund and others said they were concerned that cigarette companies are targeting women, minorities and children to purchase their products.

The protesters cited a report by former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop that nicotine in cigarettes is as addictive as cocaine and heroin.

Sixty percent of smokers are addicted by age 14, and 80 percent by 18, Neslund said.

"Children who are into drugs do not begin with cocaine, crack . . . they begin with cigarettes," Neslund said.

Lloyd Haag, 65, who arrived at the protest out of concern for his daughter, said he came to oppose the "cancer merchants."

"I oppose them trying to launder their image," Haag said.

Also, at risk is the environment, protesters said.

For example, one tree is needed for the curing process to produce 300 cigarettes.

"We are cutting down life to produce death," Neslund said.

While the anti-smokers protested the exhibit because of the sponsor, many of those who went inside seemed to appreciate what they saw.

"I liked it," said Josh Hayden, 10, a fifth-grader. "It makes me proud to be an American.

"We can worship what we want and say what we want. I'm glad we have the Bill of Rights."

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