But Tobacco Is Legal, Dr. Sullivan


April 21, 1991|By SANDRA McKEE

I've sat in stuffy press boxes at Winston Cup Stock Car races and wished for a non-smoking area.

I've even gone so far as to buy a smoke-eating ashtray for the cigarette-smoking reporter sitting beside me at the Daytona 500.

But what United States Health Secretary Louis W. Sullivan and anti-smoking advocates are trying to do to the tobacco industry in this country leaves me cold.

The manufacturing of tobacco products, after all, is a legal business. It is a fact Secretary Sullivan seems to have forgotten.

According to Dr. Sullivan's recent suggestions, sporting events sponsored by tobacco companies should be boycotted. He also asked sports promoters to stop signing tobacco companies as sponsors.

Dr. Sullivan, obviously, does not like cigarettes and would be happy to drive them out of business.

He also seems to believe just seeing the words, "Virginia Slims" next to the word tennis is enough to drive non-smokers to smoke.

Secretary Sullivan is not alone in this.

Anti-smoking advocates do not want cigarette advertising on television. They do not want, and have indeed stopped, one tobacco company from targeting a black female audience with its advertising campaign.

A lot of us might not like being targets of advertising campaigns, but isn't distinguishing the audience who uses a product and then promoting that product to the designated audience the name of big-business advertising in this country?

It is ironic that 40 years ago the tobacco industry was also fighting a boycott. But that one was not against sports sponsorships; nor was it against a company for advertising its product to a black market.

No, 40 years ago, the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company was standing up to southern whites, who were distressed by the company's donations to the NAACP.

Today, the tobacco industry continues its support of minorities through gifts to the United Negro College Fund and the Urban League. It supports the arts with major donations to the ballet and art museums.

The industry, as its spokesmen willingly point out, is not unprofitable. While manufacturing a product many abhor, it tries to be a good citizen by giving some of those profits back through support of diverse activities. Sports included.

For that, it gets very little support from the federal government to whom it pays taxes.

Personally, I don't like it when people smoke. My 71-year-old father smokes.

Since my childhood, it has been a continual bone of contention. But as he has so often pointed out: Smoking is legal. It is a personal decision. And, there are a lot of other things out there that can make you sick.

The way Sullivan and some others have been attacking the tobacco industry, a respectable business in a free enterprise society, is unbelievable.

If tobacco products can be attacked as if they were illegal substances, then what's next? Will we spend our time and tax dollars attacking legal products, while the illegal drug business continues unabated, while we fail to provide housing to the homeless and food to the hungry, while streams continue to be polluted, while the ozone layer of our world is eaten away at a rate even the Bush administration finds alarming?

Certainly, there are more pressing concerns than tobacco smoke.

As Chip Williams, a spokesman for the National Association of Stock Car Racing said the other day: "If a legal business is stopped from sponsoring a sporting event, we've got more to worry about in this country than who is going to support stock car racing."

And he's right.

Pro tennis player Pam Shriver has said she is not a big fan of having freedoms taken away.

That should be the bottom line.

If Secretary Sullivan wants to prevent tobacco companies from sponsoring events, and wants to wipe out their ad campaigns, then make tobacco an illegal substance.

Once that's done, there will be no argument. But once that's done, what comes under attack next? Will we ban everything that is bad for our individual personal health?

Which brings to mind the fact a tobacco company has been criticized for sponsoring a 200th anniversary tour for the Bill of Rights.

The tour is costing $60 million. It appears to be money well spent, because, unfortunately, not many people seem to have read it.

Sandra McKee is a sports writer for The Evening Sun.

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