Cancer council douses tobacco lobby warning

November 22, 1991|By Mary Knudson

It was like a high-stakes poker game.

Tobacco lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano laid down the law to the State Council on Cancer Control yesterday: Siding with anti-smoking groups during the 1992 General Assembly would draw the council into "a very highly political arena."

Furthermore, he said, championing anti-smoking bills before the legislature would be "outside the scope of the governor's charge to the group."

But when all the cards were on the table, the council was still in the game.

"We'll have our lawyers look at the executive order and if the current words in the executive order don't give us the mandate to do what we can to reduce the death rate of lung cancer in the state of Maryland, then we'll go to the governor and ask him to revise it," said Christian H. Poindexter, the council chairman.

Given 30 minutes to speak, Mr. Bereano said that if he had mistaken the council's intent, he would not need all of his allotted time and would gladly leave.

"You should take all of your 30 minutes," Sen. Larry Young, D-Baltimore, shot back, "because we are going to side with the smoking coalition. I don't see how this council would have any credibility if it didn't."

The cancer council's three main objectives are to pursue new programs and oversee existing ones aimed at lowering the state's death rate in cervical, breast and tobacco-caused cancers.

The highest paid lobbyist in Annapolis, Mr. Bereano's objective is to protect the interests of the Tobacco Institute and companies that manage cigarette vending machines when laws are being written in the Maryland State House. Typically, he begins his work well before the legislative session begins, lobbying county governments and Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Mr. Bereano's opposition consists of many health groups, including the American Lung Association and American Heart Association, who lobby for bills aimed at discouraging or limiting the use of tobacco products.

Mr. Bereano said that the state cancer council "has a very laudatory purpose" in fighting cervical cancer and breast cancer.

"He conveniently omitted lung cancer," noted Dr. Joseph Aisner, director of the University of Maryland Cancer Center and a member of the cancer council. Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer in Maryland and in the nation.

"I don't think there's anybody who sits on this council who thinks we have to take a hands-off position on any kind of cancer control," Mr. Poindexter said. "In short," he promised, "you're going to see us in Annapolis."

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