More Bad News for the Children

by Gene Callahan and Stu Morgenstern

After hearing the news that the high court had overturned state regulations that restricted tobacco advertising near schools, Reilly said it’s up to Congress now. As he phrased it, ”It’s up to Congress now.”

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the newly installed chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensiveness, offered to take tobacco executives for "a little spin around Chappaquidick," and called the First Amendment part of an "extremist, ultra-conservative agenda."

That amendment, which Reilly called ”bad news for children in Massachusetts,” was violated by the state’s regulations, which infringed on the tobacco maker’s free-speech rights, according to the Supreme Court. "That damned Constitution thingie is likely to make restrictions on advertising near schools very difficult to enact," said Greg Stalagmite, head of the state Department of Public Health Anti-Unhealthy-Speech Campaign.

Tobacco company representatives praised the ruling, and insisted that they do not market cigarettes to minors. They said they were perfectly willing to wait until kids were 18 to addict them. Besides, the representatives explained, next month would see the rollout of their new line of tobacco products for pets – Fido No Filters and Meow Menthols – that would make the loss of the teen market irrelevant.

”State and local governments do not have the right to prevent tobacco companies from presenting truthful advertising about their products to adult smokers,” said Phil R. Marshflats, senior counsel for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Winking, he added: "And we all know that cigarettes make you both smarter and sexier."

But Stalagmite said he and other antismoking advocates don’t believe the cigarette makers. ”If the tobacco industry does not want kids to smoke, why don’t they stop selling tobacco?” queried the dashing young bureaucrat.

Advocates said they would push to curb smoking through other measures, such as a proposed increase in the state tobacco tax. They mentioned, in passing, that they would also like to tax parking that doesn’t leave the car straight in the space, wearing goatees, and talking loudly in movie theaters.

”Now it is more essential than ever to implement successful strategies to keep children from even starting nasty habits like these,” an American Cancer Society of Massachusetts official, Marc Botulin, said yesterday. "Hey, our fundraising efforts are falling way short, and I’ve got a family to feed!"

"We must focus our efforts to wipe out these obnoxious activities in the areas around our schools. As an important first step, we succeeded, many years ago, in eliminating all learning in the vicinity of public schools. Our ultimate goal is that no one but students and government employees will be permitted anywhere near these institutions. Let’s make these neighborhoods private-sector-free zones."

Dr. Carole Alias, vice chairentity of the antismoking group Massachusetts Coalition to Badger Buttheads, urged the state to continue antismoking ads and educational campaigns. These ads, she claims, have created a climate of opinion that make the state the only one in the country to have executed a man for lighting up in a non-smoking restaurant.

”We know the tobacco industry isn’t going to stop targeting kids,” said Alias, who is also a high-ranking comrade in the Young Kennedyites. ”But we have made a lot of progress. We are one of the few states where youth smoking isn’t going up. The cost of the Big Dig, the incidence of pigeon frightening, and Pedro Martinez’s ERA, they’re all going up, but youth smoking, well, that hasn’t budged from where it was before we started this expensive campaign. I don’t think we should lose sight of that.”

A note to readers: If you found Alexander Cockburn’s story on the Bohemian Grove interesting, you might enjoy:

July 3, 2001

2001, Gene Callahan and Stu Morgenstern

Gene Callahan/Stu Morgenstern Archives