Voice of truth

July 26, 1994

Lobbyists in Annapolis drop clients from time to time for various reasons. Rarely does one return to the General Assembly and testify against a former client. So when a respected lobbyist, a former member of both houses of the legislature, does so it attracts more than routine attention. When the former lobbyist once represented the Tobacco Institute and now supports restrictions on smoking in the workplace, it's a shocker.

As well it should be. Former Montgomery County delegate, former senator, former tobacco lobbyist Victor L. Crawford is stricken with cancer -- from smoking. Initially given only months to live, he survives from month to month thanks to an experimental chemotherapy program at Johns Hopkins Hospital. And he is devoting much of his time to undoing some of the damage he acknowledges he did by working in Annapolis on behalf of the tobacco industry.

"I know what tobacco is," Mr. Crawford told a legislative committee last month. "And it's a killer." Not a relaxant, not a simple pleasure like sipping a soda, not a satisfying way to top off a meal -- a killer. The ravages caused by his cancer, in his throat and spreading elsewhere, as well as the effects of the debilitating chemotherapy, are evident in this once-debonair, handsome man.

Mr. Crawford admits his motive in lobbying for the tobacco interests was simply money. He knew better, as do so many who profess not to believe in the fatal consequences of smoking, or of inhaling someone else's smoke for long periods. Some of those who shill most blatantly for the tobacco peddlers are too smart to smoke themselves. But they still stand up before congressional or legislative committees and argue that people have a right to smoke if they wish, and even to inflict it on others. And they swear that they don't believe smoking is addictive, taking refuge in hair-splitting technicalities that have no practical meaning.

Whom do you believe, the hired hands who shamelessly tout what they know in their hearts to be a harmful product, or the repentant victim of his own excess and success? Victor Crawford has been both. "It was the voice of truth," a former colleague said after Mr. Crawford testified in favor of regulating smoking in Annapolis. However belated, it was also an act of integrity. Who will be next?

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