How Big Tobacco filters the truth

May 21, 1998|By Kevin Cowherd

THE LYING stops today."

-- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., accusing the tobacco industry of years of deception about the effects of its products and marketing strategies.

May 23 -- The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. conceded today that its controversial advertisement -- "You just nailed that archery merit badge! Time to unwind. Time for . . . a Salem!" -- may have targeted the youth market.

"Still, millions of adult archery enthusiasts enjoy tobacco products responsibly," a company spokesman said, adding R.J. Reynolds would most likely drop its entire "Scouting and Salems: A Winning Combination!" campaign.

May 30 -- Attorneys for the tobacco industry admitted that a 53-year-old Atlantic City, N.J., man who smoked three packs of cigarettes a day for 30 years has severe emphysema, and is not just "woefully out of shape" as the industry had claimed.

An earlier plan to ship a Nordic Track to the home of Vincent A.E. Popolo was scrapped after Popolo's doctors said he was too weak to get out of bed.

Said an industry spokesman: "This emphysema business is all new to us. But we have our doctors looking into it."

June 3 -- The Liggett Group Inc., makers of L&M and other cigarettes, said it was possible that nicotine is used in its products.

"Up until a few months ago, I had never even heard the term 'nicotine,' said a top executive, declining to give his name. "But some of our people were talking about it around the water cooler the other day. And it turns out there are trace amounts in our cigarettes.

"How much, I wouldn't know. I'm not a scientist."

June 7 -- Testifying before a Senate subcommittee, officials of Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corp. acknowledged their holiday promotional campaign "Christmas morning. Santa brought your Malibu Barbie. Couldn't you go for a Kool?" may have targeted the youth market.

"The problem was faulty research," explained a Brown and Williamson spokesman. "Apparently we were given data showing that many women over the legal age of 21 receive Malibu Barbies as Christmas presents.

"Sadly, that turned out not to be the case. But the fact is that millions of adult Barbie owners, many of them residents of Malibu, continue to enjoy tobacco products responsibly."

June 19 -- Executives of the five largest tobacco companies now admit their response of "Cancer, schmancer!" to a 1995 surgeon TTC general's report on smoking may have been premature.

"If there is any link between cigarette smoking and cancer -- and the operative word here is IF -- we plan to get to the bottom of it."

July 3 -- In sworn depositions, executives of Phillip Morris Inc. conceded today that a push to have cartons of Marlboros awarded as prizes on Nickelodeon's "Figure It Out" game show may have targeted the youth market.

Although host Summer Sanders offered each pint-sized contestant $100 worth of Geoffrey money or "five cartons of primo smokes," all the winners opted for the Toys R Us cash.

"Hindsight is 20-20, but we were probably wrong," said a company spokesman.

"But what you have to keep in mind is that millions of parents of these tiny game-show contestants continue to use tobacco products responsibly."

July 14 -- Top tobacco industry honchos agreed today there exists "a little evidence, although mostly anecdotal," to suggest that some smokers have trouble quitting.

An industry spokesman put the number of hooked smokers at "no more than a few hundred nationwide."

"And," he added, "these are mostly weak-willed individuals, many with a criminal bent or avowed anarchists, the rest lazy good-for-nothings looking for a government handout.

"It's sad, really."

Informed that public health officials placed the number of addicted smokers at several million, the spokesman replied: "Oh. Well, let me check my figures and get back to you."

Aug. 6 -- Officials at Lorillard Tobacco Co. admitted today that their advertising campaign -- "Scissors cut paper. Rock beats scissors. But nothing beats Kent Ultra Lights!" -- may have targeted the youth market.

The company also acknowledged promoting its products on large billboards at various playgrounds in more than 200 cities, although a spokeswoman said most of the ads were "tastefully done. We really tried to blend in with the natural scenery -- and the jungle gyms, seesaws, slides and what have you -- whenever possible.

"What should be stressed here," she continued, "is that millions of adult players of the popular Rock-Paper-Scissors game continue to enjoy tobacco products responsibly."

Pub Date: 5/21/98

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