Category Archives: Tobacco

Public Health Advocacy on Tobacco and Guns Down Under and Beyond – An Interview with Simon Chapman

Simon Chapman is Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney in Australia. He has studied and participated in public health advocacy on tobacco, guns, and other issues. He is a sociologist who wrote his PhD dissertation on the semiotics of cigarette advertising, and has written 10 books and major government reports and published more than 160 papers in peer- reviewed journals. His main research interests are in tobacco control, media discourses on health and illness, and risk communication. He teaches courses in Public Health Advocacy and Tobacco Control in the University of Sydney’s MPH program. He also serves as editor of Tobacco Control and was a key member of the Coalition for Gun Control that won the 1996 Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s community Human Rights award. His new book, Public Health Advocacy and Tobacco: Making Smoking History will be released this September by Blackwell Press. A few months ago, Corporations and Health Watch founder Nicholas Freudenberg interviewed Chapman in his Sydney office. We publish here excerpts of that interview.

CHW: Can you tell me your perspective on the similarities and differences in the tobacco control effort in Australia and the United States, and what’s special about how these conflicts have played out here in Australia?

Chapman: What is similar is that both Australia and the United States are very robust democracies where freedom of expression, criticism of the government, criticism of the corporate sector … all of those issues are not problematic. Whereas in places like China or Vietnam, talking about advocacy is like talking Esperanto because the notion that you could ever make an argument against government or even against corporations is pretty much unheard of. So that is the major similarity.

In Australia, in tobacco control, we have not had the problem that you’ve got in the States with the First Amendment and the issue of free speech being taken to include commercial free speech. Very early on in Australia, arguments were put forward about banning tobacco advertising and promotion, and there was never any serious impediment to that which was constitutionally based or, indeed, based in values that would suggest that corporations could somehow not be silenced in their exercise of free speech. The tobacco industry, of course, fought very hard against any restrictions, along the lines of trying to play games about getting us to reach an impossible level of evidence about cause and effect of advertising and smoking. But those arguments petered out and in the early 1990s we got rid of all tobacco advertisements in Australia. Today you can’t see any advertising anywhere except for very limited point of sale promotion inside tobacconists.

CHW: Are there other cultural or political differences that influence attitudes towards tobacco?

Chapman: Another difference between the States and Australia in terms of tobacco control is concern about what I would characterize as very trivial erosions of personal freedom like having to wear seat belts or a motorcycle crash helmet. Here in Australia, there has not been any significant civil libertarian resistance, whereas I’m very aware that in those two areas there has been conflict in the States. But we haven’t had anything like that, so arguments in Australia about, for example, rules about designating places where we couldn’t smoke were pretty well accepted by the population. The idea that it was fair and just that the government should intervene with laws when somebody was harming your health through second hand smoke was reasonable. So the problem always became the vested interest groups, mainly the tobacco industry, but more importantly, third parties acting on their behalf. This included principally the hospitality industry and the hotel industry, and what we call “clubs”, places where members can gamble, smoke and drink. Australia has successfully imposed restrictions on smoking in these places.

CHW: I know you have also worked on the issue of reducing gun violence in Australia. How does your experience here compare to the US?

Chapman: Well, again, we have nothing like the Second Amendment, or a right to bear arms. In 1996, we had a horrendous civilian massacre in Port Arthur, a historic tourist site in Tasmania, where a man ran amok with military style semi-automatic weapons and killed 35 people.

That was a tipping point for a lot of gun control advocacy that erupted in the decade leading up to that. I describe these experiences in my 1998 book Over our dead bodies: Port Arthur and Australia’s fight for gun control. ((Read the British Medical Journal review) In that book, I make the case that in health care we have disaster plans where every working hospital is prepared for a major industrial explosion or an aircraft crash or something like that. In public health we also ought to have disaster plans because sometimes big public health incidents, like a gun massacre, can trigger (sorry about the bad pun) major reconsiderations in public health law, and that was certainly what happened after Port Arthur.

CHW: By disaster plans, you mean a plan to move advocacy forward if there’s a window for policy change?

Chapman: That’s right. It opens a window of opportunity where a major disaster can suddenly concentrate decades of advocacy. All of a sudden, communities start using the arguments that you’ve been seeding for years and years, leading to a huge avalanche of public outrage that something should be done now. After the Port Arthur massacre, we found terms and phrases that we’d been using for years suddenly being repeated by politicians, police officers, and citizens in ways that showed the groundwork for advocacy comes home to roost when public concern is fired up by these incidents.

CHW: Have these same dynamics played out in tobacco control?

Chapman: With tobacco, the major challenge is that if you don’t do something about control today and you postpone it for weeks, months, or even years, there is not the obvious temporal association between something not having been done and the disease incidence down the road. It’s the old difference between statistical victims and what’s been referred to as the rule of rescue, where you’ve got identifiable, named individuals with acute health problems, saying the government should be providing this new cancer drug for me or reducing waiting lists in public hospitals. Whereas, with chronic disease, of which tobacco control is a great example, you can run the same arguments about harm reduction or controlling the tobacco industry for years and years. It’s really only when windows of opportunity open – and they include things like political charismatic leadership coming along where you start getting the substantive kind of gains. I’ve never seen really tobacco control events without a strong political advocate who comes along and decides to do something about it.

CHW: That’s an interesting observation. So you’re suggesting acute crises like gun massacres or a toxic release open their own windows of opportunity for policy change whereas chronic health problems related to tobacco, alcohol or food may depend more on charismatic leadership. Can we return for a moment to gun control? In the United States, as you know, one of the key obstacles to reducing gun violence is the National Rifle Association. Its well-funded and skilled lobbying operation has been remarkably successful in blocking public health measures, even when public support for such measures is strong. What’s the situation here in Australia?

Chapman: Well, gun ownership is pretty widespread in Australia but it’s not as common as in the U.S. Here, however, the organized gun lobby is fairly small. Since the Port Arthur massacre, people who want to have a gun are obliged to be a member of a sporting shooting club or show a history of hunting. The equivalent of the NRA in Australia is called the SSAA, Sporting Shooters Association of Australia. SSAA has become very well off because all shooters now have to undertake an approved safety instruction course, as if safety was the issue. Safety is really a trivial component of gun injuries and deaths. To own a gun here, individuals have to register their attendance at a shooting range a minimum of four times a year. And the criterion of ownership of a gun for self- defense was explicitly removed. You can’t just say, “I want a gun for self defense.” The only reasons you can have a gun are if you are a member of a sporting shooting club or you are a bona fide gun collector, and then you’ve got to show evidence you’ve been collecting for a long time. It’s very difficult to become a new collector. The third reason to have a gun is that you have explicit permission from a rural property owner to go on their property and shoot kangaroos and feral pigs, or whatever. But just the idea that you can have a gun if you want to is not allowed.

CHW: So the SSAA has developed a close interdependent relationship with the government?

Chapman: Yes, they get training course fees and club registration fees and so they become quite powerful. For example, we had a state election last week and I discovered that the SSAA had given $350,000 to a political party called the Shooters Party to try and get them elected. In Australia, that is a big political donation. So the question is where did they get the money? They get it from shooter’s licenses so the irony is that the government will be opposed by a funding stream its own laws created.

CHW: How did you become involved in public health advocacy? Do you think there’s a potential for bringing health advocates together across issues like tobacco, guns, alcohol and so on?

Chapman: I got into advocacy because I had a typical community health education job when I was a younger guy, and a few like-minded colleagues and I became frustrated with being obliged to work in downstream problem solution, educating school teachers, that sort of thing. We could see all of this corporate malfeasance and industry promotion of unhealthy behavior all around us. I was working in the drug and alcohol areas, so I thought, if we’re going to be serious about reducing drug and alcohol problems, we need to address the upstream stuff. So I got involved in forming a public interest group that was a typical, totally unfunded, flying by the seat-of-the-pants opportunistic pebble in the shoe of the tobacco companies. In the early 1980s, we had a major victory when we were able to engineer an end to the involvement in a leading cigarette advertising campaign of Paul Hogan, the actor, who was Crocodile Dundee. Hogan was on every advertisement for this particular brand, and he had major appeal to children. The tobacco industry had a self- regulatory rule that just didn’t work so we challenged that process and won. All of a sudden with no resources we made a difference by strategically using the media and creative research strategies. So I started getting interested in advocacy principally in tobacco control. Then in the early 1990s, I got involved in gun control.

CHW: So you have had a lot of experience on several different campaigns. As someone who is interested in the advocacy process, how do you decide which issues to work on, which to study?

Chapman: Well, you can’t do everything in advocacy, so I do the things I am interested in and feel are important and I try to do things that when windows of opportunity open I can jump in and do something. Being opportunistic is so vital for effective advocacy and if you can’t make room for those opportunities when they open you’re not going to be very effective.

CHW: Are you talking mainly about media advocacy here?

Chapman: Media advocacy is, of course, only one component of the overall public health advocacy enterprise, but to me it’s rare for an advocacy campaign to succeed if there is no media advocacy component. It’s usually the elephant in the living room that runs it.

CHW: You’ve written about the public discussion of tobacco. How do you think media advocacy has affected that dialogue?

Chapman: The tobacco industry in Australia has largely vanished from public discourse. In fact, I’ve got a graduate student of mine working on going back and looking when it was that the tobacco industry started disappearing from the press. It’s around about the late l990s when all those documents came out because, of course, it was then so easy just to contradict everything they said by showing them their own words. But they now operate almost entirely through elite-to-elite communication channels, you know through funding of political parties, through funding of free enterprise foundations, that sort of thing.

CHW: So in effect, you’re arguing that successful media advocacy by tobacco control activists re-framed the media discussion and drove the industry to find new channels of communication. How do you think this lesson applies to other industries, say alcohol or food?

Chapman: The alcohol industry is the one where I get the most requests from people who say, “Can you do for alcohol what you helped do for tobacco?” To me, there are enormous fundamental differences between the two. The main one is that there is no safe level of tobacco use, whereas there is a lot of very respectable epidemiology that suggests that low to moderate alcohol use is actually beneficial. So in alcohol there are not too many points of comparison with the core messages of tobacco control which are: “Get rid of all advertising and promotion”, “Put the price of tobacco products up significantly”, “Reduce opportunities to get hold of tobacco”, and “Limit sales outlets”. I haven’t heard a really compelling call for banning all alcohol advertising.

On the other hand, my alcohol advocacy colleagues tell me about issues that do call for advocacy. For example, you can buy bulk wine in Australia in these boxes with taps on the bottom. You can get four liters of this wine for under ten bucks, and it’s the favored drink of indigenous people who have extraordinary health problems from alcohol. It’s taxed at a much lower rate than table wine, quality wine. But there’s no rationale for different levels of taxes. There ought to be a standard way of taxing all beverages by alcohol content.

CHW: I’d like to switch gears here and talk about teaching about the impact of corporate practices on health and the role of public health advocacy. How do you approach this subject in your public health curriculum?

Chapman: The very first lecture I give in my Public Health Advocacy course is a description of the traditional host, environment, agent and vector model from infectious disease epidemiology. And I say, let’s apply this to chronic disease epidemiology and to the tobacco industry, tobacco control. What is the vector? The vector is the tobacco industry. I tell my students that any comprehensive approach to chronic disease control, injury prevention, whatever, if you don’t address the vectors who are profiting from the proliferation of abusive behaviors, or dangerous products, then you’re going to miss the boat. So vector control in chronic disease invariably takes you into consideration of industry groups who are out to profit.

CHW: And do you see this as a model for public health folks or do you think it has a potential for mobilizing more popular political support?

Chapman: I see it as both. When politicians favor downstream solutions, more education, more information, rather than upstream solutions, that’s because the comprehensive control model that they’re using does not embrace vector control, control of industry. At the same time, I also think that sometimes industry can be very much a part of the solution.

The food industry is a particularly complex area for public health advocacy. If I ask nutritionists and dieticians, “Exactly what is it that you want people to put in their mouths?” they give me laundry lists of a good diet. And if I ask, “And where do you get hold of that diet?” they say, “Oh, you can buy it at shops.” And I say, “Well, who puts it in shops?” The food industry puts it in shops.

Any view of the future of nutritional change which sees the food industry as being only part of the problem, rather than part of the solution, is myopic. They are certainly part of the problem, but I think that public health advocates also need to understand how coalitions and relationships and networks can be formed with the food industry to push it in the right direction.

Too often the public sector and the NGO sector people concerned about obesity just talk to each other. But where does the average person get nutrition information? They get it from food labeling and from advertising. They may get a bit from public sector, but the total budget of the average bread company is bigger than the government’s entire nutrition campaign budget. So sometimes the role of government can be to stimulate the market to do something differently. With the tobacco industry, people say it’s so easy, so black and white.

CHW: What do you see as the global dimensions of health advocacy to change corporate practices?

Chapman: Well, in tobacco, there has been an immense amount of global networking and information and strategy exchange going on. For example, 190 NGOs have been very instrumental in making sure that the Framework Convention of Tobacco Control just passed in 2003 is fully implemented.

And the Internet has absolutely revolutionized advocacy practice. Not a day goes by where somebody isn’t saying, “Do you know this organization?” “Do you know that individual?” “This has happened. What would you do?” “Is this guy an industry stooge?” So that has been immensely important. I’m not as well connected with gun control any longer, but a colleague of mine runs the major website for the world, gunpolicy.org , which reports on breaking news about guns and gun control from around the world.

CHW: So if I can come back to ask your opinion on the underlying question. What do you see as the potential for campaigns, advocacy networks or actual social movements that would bring greater attention and action on some of these issues, particularly in Australia?

Chapman: I think there’s a lot of potential. Public health has got many specializations within it. You walk around the corridors of this building, the public health building at the University of Sydney, there are statisticians, behavioral scientists, epidemiologists, and anthropologists, and you walk into major NGOs and there is a Director of Marketing, of Community Development, of Campaigns, but there is seldom an Advocacy Director. Advocacy is unfortunately something that people seem to do in their spare time almost. In University settings, there are not a lot of people around the world who are teaching courses on Public Health Advocacy in Masters of Public Health degree programs.

Now in the States I know you’ve got that Hatch Law that prevents government workers from engaging in certain kinds of political activities. . There’s not the problem with that here. Here in Australia, advocacy isn’t a dirty word nearly as much as it is in the States. Government officials, of course, can’t advocate but NGOs are expected to do that. Academic research in the advocacy process is an emerging specialization within public health. The course I teach here is problem based. I give students realistic scenarios and I say let’s analyze what’s going on here, and I ask a series of structured questions. What is the public health problem arising from this scenario? What are our public health objectives? What are our media advocacy objectives that would suit our public health objectives?

Is there opportunity that would short circuit the need for advocacy? How are our position and our opponent’s position being framed in public discourse? How is the debate running in the media? Is it about unnecessary debt or is it about commercial freedom? Then drilling down even further, say a reporter phones, you’ve got a chance to say something that’s going to heard by 20 million people, and you’ve got seven seconds to say it. What are you going to say? So actually bringing that analytical process to considering what your intervention is going to be in that seven seconds. And then, are there other strategies in which you would engage beyond the media advocacy? Are there influential people you can see? Can you discredit your opponents?

CHW: Tell me about your new book, Public Health Advocacy and Tobacco: Making Smoking History. Ken Warner, the Dean of the University of Michigan School of Public Health and a long-time tobacco researcher wrote about your book, “ I was fascinated, educated, and occasionally entertained by this broad and deep “manual” of how to do tobacco control in the 21st century.” What’s the aim of your book?

Chapman: Well, I think the goal of tobacco control is to make smoking history. In the book, I describe effective and ineffective approaches, condemn overly enthusiastic policies that ignore important ethical principles, and offer readers a cookbook of strategies and tactics for denormalising smoking and the industry that promotes it. I hope readers will find it useful.

CHW: Thanks very much.

Towards a Global Tobacco Control Agenda: The WHO’s Framework Convention for Tobacco Control

Each month Corporations and Health Watch examines global perspectives on corporations and health. We post coverage of campaigns to change corporate practices in other developed and developing countries; present news and analysis on new global trade and other agreements among corporations and their supporters and among international alliances of advocacy groups working to modify health-damaging practices. We invite readers to send us suggestions for campaigns, reports and issues to analyze for our Global Perspectives section. Send suggestions to us.

On May 31, 2007 tobacco control advocates and activists around the world recognized World No Tobacco Day. Through their actions, they drew attention to the fact that globally, tobacco products claim nearly 5 million lives per year and secondhand smoke has been proven to cause death and disease, and they challenged Big Tobacco’s continuing attempts to weaken national and international tobacco control measures.

Tobacco control is a global issue for several reasons. First, as Western nations implement stricter laws curbing secondhand smoke and tobacco industry practices, Big Tobacco increasingly looks to the global south – where there are often weaker tobacco control laws in place – to market its products. Second, in an era of globalized media, Big Tobacco’s marketing efforts reach beyond their country of origin and influence individuals, particularly youth, worldwide. Third, if current trends continue, by 2030 tobacco products will cause more than 10 million deaths per year with 70% of such deaths taking place in the global south. Thus, controlling tobacco has the potential to improve population health around the world. Finally, smuggling of tobacco products is an international issue and this practice is often coordinated by the tobacco industry itself.

As part of a global effort to fight Big Tobacco, 168 countries have signed the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) created by the World Health Organization. Of these, 147 have become Parties – members of the regulating body of the FCTC. More than 250 organizations from 90 countries have also joined the Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control – an international group created to support the FCTC.

The FCTC is considered the world’s first public health treaty. The treaty is designed to address the growing crisis of tobacco-related death and disease and to reduce the health, social, environmental and economic impact of tobacco and secondhand smoke. It was adopted unanimously by the World Health Assembly (the governing body of the World Health Organization) in May 2003. In November 2004, Peru became the 40th country to ratify the treaty, thus meeting the minimum number of ratifications needed to enter the FCTC into force, an event that took place in February 2005. The FCTC is legally binding for those countries that ratify it. However, it is up to national governments to implement the agreement.

The main provisions of the FCTC require signatories to: 1) Ban the use of misleading tobacco advertising; 2) Enact and enforce comprehensive bans on tobacco marketing and sponsorship within five years of ratifying the treaty; 3) Increase tobacco taxes; 4) Require health warnings on tobacco packaging that cover a minimum of 30% of the display area but ideally cover 50% and 5) Implement comprehensive measures to protect citizens from the health hazards of secondhand smoke.

The FCTC also promotes research and the sharing of such research internationally, encourages legal action against the tobacco industry, suggests signatories support cessation services, and requires action against tobacco smuggling and for regulation and labeling of all ingredients in tobacco products. Countries that sign and ratify the FCTC are encouraged to look to these provisions as minimum measures and are encouraged to take a stronger stand against the tobacco industry practices that harm health.

The United States has been an international leader in tobacco control, particularly since the 1998 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, the provisions of which helped reduced already declining smoking rates in the United States. However, the Bush Administration has not been supportive of the FCTC. For more than a year the U.S. refused to sign the treaty and attempted to undermine it. In particular, the Bush Administration fought the provision which mandated a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion, claiming that this would be unconstitutional in the United States as corporations are granted First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, which protects their right to advertise. The Bush Administration continued to fight this provision even when language was proposed that would have called for a ban of advertising “within constitutional limits.” The U.S. also fought the funding provisions within the treaty. Finally, in May 2004 the United States signed the FCTC but as of yet it has neither been ratified by Congress nor have its legislative mandates been passed . “Unfortunately,” Kathryn Mulvey of the advocacy group Infact told The Washington Post, “our government has a history of signing treaties, leveraging its power to weaken the treaties, and then never ratifying them. This is a stunning PR maneuver. We are not holding our breath for the U.S. to ratify the treaty.”

By July 2006, 131 countries representing more than 75% of the world’s population had ratified the FCTC. Thus, as other countries sign, ratify and implements its mandates, the United States is falling behind.

From June 30 to July 6, 2007, the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control’s “Conference of the Parties”, a group of countries that lead the effort to monitor implementation, will meet in Bangkok, Thailand. Their agenda is to develop guidelines to:

  • provide protection from exposure to tobacco smoke in indoor workplaces, public transport, indoor public places and, as appropriate, other public places.
  • eliminate of illicit trade in tobacco products.
  • move towards a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, covering both its within-country and cross-border elements.
  • establish standards for packaging and labeling of tobacco products.

The Framework Convention and its nongovernmental partners have the potential to match the global tobacco industry in advancing an international agenda on tobacco, an agenda that protects rather than harms health. Whether the decisions made in Bangkok can realize this potential remains to be seen.

Campaign Profile: Licensed to Kill

Last month youth activists from around the world working with Essential Action’s Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control held a rally in front of the Altria/Philip Morris’ New York City headquarters one day after the company’s 2007 shareholder meeting. The youth staged an action Altria and handing out information to passersby. While youth activists have been taking on Big Tobacco internationally for some time, what made this action particularly interesting was that the activists were joined by rival tobacco company Licensed to Kill (LTK). At the rally, LTK representatives attempted to deliver the “Profiting off of Poison Award–Golden Coffin Award 2007″ to Altria representatives who declined to receive it.

Lest you think that tobacco industry representatives have finally come clean about the fact that their product, when used as directed, causes cancer, emphysema, heart disease and death, it is important to know that LTK is the creation of former corporate lawyer and now activist Robert Hinkley of Essential Action. However LTK is more than just a spoof; it is an actual tobacco company incorporated in the state of Virginia with the stated purpose of engaging in the “manufacture and marketing of tobacco products in a way that each year kills over 400,000 Americans and 4.5 million other persons worldwide.” Hinkley formed the company in order to make a point about both the tobacco industry and the protected status of corporations in American society, particularly those that operate at the expense of public health and safety. While LTK’s application raised eyebrows at the State Corporation Commission, as long as the name isn’t already registered and the applicant pays the filing fee, the application meets basic requirements, and the state has little choice but to grant a corporate charter. Thus, on March 19, 2003, Licensed to Kill was born.

One month later, anti-tobacco activists, including 200 youth, staged a protest at the Virginia State Capital to condemn the company, to call for stricter tobacco control and to stand in solidarity with tobacco control activists around the world. The activists were not alone. Licensed to Kill CEO “Rich Fromdeth” and other Senior VPs were at the state capital celebrating the founding of their new company. Company director Gray Vastone stated, “If a person was to ask the state for authorization to go on a serial killing rampage, he would surely be locked up in jail or a mental institution. Luckily, such moral standards do not apply to corporations.” As LTK executives attempted to introduce their new cigarette brands “Serial Killer,” “Genocide,” and “Global Massacre,” the youth activists booed and attempted to drown out their speeches. In an imaginative alliance, LTK and Essential Action work together to educate the media and the general public about the health hazards of tobacco, the tobacco industry, and the nature of corporations that profit at the expense of human health. In these staged confrontations, LTK “representatives” spoof Big Tobacco and Essential Action youth protest them and the tobacco industry at large.

Licensed to Kill’s website is a humorous critique of Big Tobacco. In the “about our company” section, LTK defines the five attributes that define their business as “a strong commitment to profits over people; excellence in marketing death; financial pay-offs; innovation in public relation spin, and an undying dedication to making a killing.” Their motto is “We’re Rich. You’re Dead!” Licensed to Kill separates itself out from other Big Tobacco companies through their dedication to transparency. They openly admit their products cause death and disease (and that they don’t care); they don’t attempt to improve their public image through a company name change, and they don’t state one thing publicly and another privately. Instead, LTK admits that they market to young people (“Duh! It’s plain common business sense!”) through brands like “Chain™”, a chocolate flavored cigarette. The company also admits it markets to African Americans and specifically designed the product “Slave” to celebrate the historical linkages between Africans and the tobacco industry.

While other tobacco industry representatives try to downplay the health hazards of smoking and secondhand smoke, (“The solution is really quite simple: just don’t breathe!”), LTK boasts that the death and disease caused by smoking is good for the economy: “When our customers eventually succumb to emphysema and cancer, they spend billions of dollars on oxygen tanks, chemotherapy, and medical operations. Every cigarette smoked represents money earned and a stronger American economy.” Big Tobacco is also good for the global economy, states LTK, and applauds weaker tobacco control regulations in countries around the world which allow them to market their products to larger numbers of youth and adults. Finally, Licensed to Kill representatives also laud the U.S. government for its granting corporations Bill of Rights protections such as the right to advertise a deadly product is protected under the guise of “free speech.”

Through mock documents on their website, press releases, and events staged throughout the world, LTK specifically critiques Philip Morris/Altria. For example, shortly after LTK’s incorporation, former Virginia Governor Mark Warner announced that Philip Morris would create 450 jobs in the Richmond area in return for a $25 million performance-based grant from the Virginia Investment Program. LTK responded that it would also seek a relocation incentive package from the state of Virginia. In order to increase its chances, company executives announced that they would invest $1 million in local Richmond area charities: “It’s a tried and true way of showing that, despite our company’s intent to kill 4.9 million people annually, we’re really a good corporation citizen – every dollar we donate buys us the freedom to continue business as usual,” stated Senior VP Corrie Prutspin.

In 2004 the company issued a press release stating LTK executives were in Thailand to attend the ASEAN Art Awards and to “lend Philip Morris support in defending their industry’s right to use art to cover up the 5 million lives it kills worldwide and every year – including more than 40,000 in Thailand alone.” Company spokesperson Virginia Slime also announced LTK’s support for efforts to prevent the ratification and implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The company had previously praised the Bush Administration for its efforts to gut the treaty. Rich Fromdeth declared, “A ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship would eliminate one of our industry’s most effective avenues for hooking kids and young adults to our addictive product line. It’s heartening to have a president who stands up for the Big Guys, however unpopular or detrimental to public health it may be.”

In June of 2005, LTK issued a press release announcing that executives would be in Washington, DC to lobby DC city council member Jim Graham against supporting smokefree workplace legislation. CEO Rich Fromdeth argued, “If he cares at all about the health of the tobacco industry, he will take a stand for maintaining the smoky status quo.” Senior VP Virginia Slime continued, “Unlike our industry rival, Altria, which gave the Metropolitan Restaurant Association of Washington $10,000 for its awards ceremony last week, Licensed to Kill believes in direct lobbying.”

Essential Action’s humorous and over-the-top approach both provides information about Big Tobacco and also generates media and public interest in tobacco control, especially among young people. It demonstrates that small organizations can contribute to the changes in public consciousness that will be needed to reduce the harm from tobacco and other lethal but legal products.

Interview with Reverend Jessie Brown

Reverend Jessie Brown is minister of two congregations in Philadelphia and a community leader who successfully fought the introduction of Uptown cigarettes in Philadelphia in 1991. Working with National Association of African Americans for Positive Imagery (NAAPI), of which Reverend Brown is the founder and executive director, he and other community leaders charged R.J. Reynolds with creating and marketing a new tobacco product specifically to African Americans. Because of their campaign, R.J. Reynolds pulled Uptown Cigarettes from the market. Today Reverend Brown continues to work nationally in tobacco control. He was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by NAAPI against the tobacco industries for marketing menthol cigarettes to African Americans. His work has been featured on many major news outlets and broadcasted throughout the world. Reverend Brown is also the chair of the US World No Tobacco Day Committee.

CHW: How did you start working in tobacco control?

JBROWN: In 1989, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company announced that they were coming to Philadelphia to create a new cigarette that was going to be specifically targeted to African Americans. And Philadelphia was going to be the test market site for that cigarette. We formed a community opposition group that thwarted their efforts to promote this. In fact, they withdrew the cigarette totally. It never reached the market.

CHW:: This was the “Uptown Cigarette,” correct?

JBROWN: Right, that was Uptown. R.J. Reynolds proudly announced that they were going to create a cigarette that was going to be specifically for African Americans and they thought they were being sensitive by telling everybody that they are now paying attention to the African American community. Of course, what they’re failing to do — which a cigarette company always fails to do — is to articulate the deadly nature of its product. So they treated it as if they were selling graham crackers rather than selling something that was highly addictive and highly dangerous to the African American community. So yes, they announced it in the Wall Street Journal in December 1989. By January 19, 1990, R.J. Reynolds formerly announced that it was going to withdraw that cigarette.

CHW: So, no packs of Uptown cigarettes were ever sold. Is that right?

JBROWN: None were ever sold. That’s correct.

CHW: Did you ever actually see the cigarettes?

JBROWN: Yes, I have a pack.

CHW: How was Uptown specifically targeted toward the African American community?

JBROWN: The color [used in the packaging] is red, black, and green — African Liberation colors — with the predominant color being black; and, of course, the green and red stripes. Secondly, we believe (this is our interpretation) that the majority of people who probably would be using it were laborers and did not like to get their hands on the filters to make them dirty. They packed them upside down so that you didn’t have to flip them over, just knock them out, and you pick it up from the end that you generally light, and stick it in your mouth.

CHW: What strategies do you think contributed to the success of the campaign?

JBROWN: One, we moved very quickly to consolidate the medical interests, community interests, as well as the church interests in our opposing what R.J. Reynolds was doing. And in doing so, we beat them to the punch, garnering most of the support in Philadelphia to oppose them on the product, including getting Ebony Magazine who also put out a statement that they were not going to market the product. This kind of stuff had never happened before, period. No one in the tobacco control movement had ever stopped the industry from marketing a cigarette. We were the first.

CHW: Did you do most of your community organizing through the churches?

JBROWN: Well, a combination. We already had identified from previous campaigns, churches who were sympathetic to the mission of health promotion. And some of the city council members became involved, the local agencies — heart, lung, and cancer locally — took a high backup role and put their resources, time, money, and energy and staff into making certain that this campaign came off well.

CHW: What kinds of successful tactics did you use in the Uptown Campaign?

JBROWN: We took black paint and painted over cigarette billboards in neighborhoods and communities. And, of course, that was to get a message out that we did not want that kind of advertising in our neighborhoods. And billboards are the kind of thing you can’t turn off. They’re always on. And the only way we were going to get the upper hand on this was that those things be taken out of our community. We also had T-shirts and cap exchange programs. That was where we would take T-shirts and caps that had an alcohol or tobacco logo, or other kinds of paraphernalia and exchange it for a T-shirt or a cap that had a positive message. We did that in a number of places, and particularly around me going to court since I was the only one arrested for the “black washing” [billboard alteration]. That gave us an activity, and a way to attract people to come down to the courthouse.

CHW: You got arrested for altering the billboards? And you got people to come down to the courtroom?

JBROWN: Yes. We filled up the courtroom. And the outdoor advertising industry or the tobacco industry was not interested in really prosecuting, so all the charges were eventually dropped. But while they were shaking their sabers, we decided to use it for an opportunity for education — community education. And it was extremely successful. And a number of other groups around the country also picked up on the idea, and did it themselves as well.

CHW: I’ve spoken with someone who does research in Harlem about billboard ads and point of sale marketing, and she says that a lot of folks just sort of casually do this now, and if they see an alcohol ad, they’ll just tear it down off the phone booth, or paint over it, or put a sticker over it. Do you see a relationship between that and the activities you guys did?

JBROWN: Sure. We’ve given people permission to take charge of their environment and their community. You know, not everybody is willing to take charge of that. And in some places, it could literally be deemed vandalism or there could be of legal consequences to that, but at some level, communities should be in charge of the images that come into their community — not corporate America. And when corporations don’t do what they need to do in the best interest of the community, particularly tobacco and alcohol, then the community needs to take control of that process for themselves.

CHW: So it seems that public opinion of the tobacco industry has worsened.

JBROWN: But, it won’t stay there.

CHW: You don’t think so?

JBROWN: No. We have to make sure it stays there. Corporations, like everything else, have the ability to advertise their way out of this. We don’t have the advertising dollars that they do. They spend billions. We spend a few — you know — for every billion dollars they spend, we may spend a thousand dollars on advertising. So we’re talking about equal partners in this process. And over time, if we are not vigilant, they’ll be able to raise their image, cause nobody stays down on any organization forever. And we also have this mixed message thing going sometimes that somehow they’re doing the right thing. And some people buy into that.

CHW: You mean in terms of the so-called “tobacco education” that they do?

JBROWN: Yeah, but we know — for those of us who are directly involved with them, we see their advertising campaigns, and we know that they are still going after young people. And we know that it’s in their best interest to do so because they would have no customers in fairly short order if they didn’t replace the ones that they lose.

CHW: So, what do you think the impact the “Uptown” campaign was on folks in Philadelphia?

JBROWN: Oh, I think it was more than just in Philadelphia. It was across the country. I think it did send a message to young people that the industry is out to get them. They were upset that the industry would come in and appropriate their culture, their language, and stuff like the Uptown Theater — one reason why they chose Philadelphia was because the Uptown Theater was a way to talk about fun. It has a historical context and perspective here. And a lot of young people were not too happy with that.

CHW: So the Uptown Campaign had a pretty significant effect…

JBROWN: Uptown, for a little bit, turned into a cottage industry to talk about the old community organizing, what we did, how it carried off, what the communities did. It is now part of some textbooks, as I understand it. They now teach about the fiasco of R.J. Reynolds in trying to market the Uptown Cigarette. And it’s used as a lesson learned in some schools, marketing schools. So it had a huge impact in a number of areas in addition to an impact on educating the community.

CHW: What kind of press did you get?

JBROWN: We had literally hundreds and hundreds of interviews done by our Media team; and what we did was identify six spokespersons who had it. You know, for instance, Dr. Bob Robertson was our statistics person. He knew the statistics. We all knew them, of course, but someone called and said they wanted to talk about statistical information, we’d put him up. I was kind of the community person, and I would talk about the community organizing part of it. We had a medical doctor talk about the medical issues around it. We had a politician talk about the political fallout that ensues from such promotion activities. So we chose our spokespeople well to meet various general media needs, but we did it based on what kind of message we wanted to get out, not necessarily what the media wanted to say.

CHW: And so how long did it take before R.J. Reynolds made the announcement that they were removing the cigarette?

JBROWN: In reality, thirteen days. That’s what we officially say. It was actually nine from the time that we formally organized to the time that R.J. Reynolds withdrew.

CHW: Tell me a little more about NAAAPI’s focus.

JBROWN: NAAAPI’s original notion was that we would deal with advertising images that were negative to the community which included tobacco, alcohol, and the media. As tobacco control money became available, and a lot of NAAAPI’s work then went into tobacco control.

CHW: So it has evolved into more of an organization that does campaigns directed towards the tobacco industry?

JBROWN: Correct. I would say tobacco and alcohol because we did a number of alcohol initiatives as well, and they’re on the website, too.

CHW: What do you think the similarities between the alcohol industry and the tobacco industries are in terms of targeting specific communities?

JBROWN: They’re working from the same playbook essentially. Their marketing techniques [of] wrapping themselves around community and social concerns and needs in order to sell their product is exactly the same between the two. Both of their products take a heavy toll on the community.

CHW: In terms of health?

JBROWN: In terms of health and life and quality of life. Because we know that, particularly with alcohol, and even with tobacco, the stresses that are placed on families create issues of domestic violence and neglect so even the quality of life is diminished by the product. You’ve got children who may be exposed, and the stress it puts on the family with kids who are sick, constantly sick; not to mention the prenatal issues that mothers have around giving birth and low birth weight babies.

CHW: I read a recent Washington Post article about new marketing used by the tobacco industry that involves naming cigarettes — alcohol flavored cigarettes — using gambling lingo. “Screwdriver Slots,” “Blackjack Gin.” Have you heard of this?

JBROWN: Yes. It’s par for the course. Again, all of those industries. The alcohol industry, itself, is trying to do that by taking some of its brand nicknames and making wine coolers using similar names, so that they would then break down the sensitivity, particularly of young people, to the aversion of alcohol, and get them involved. Again, they got to replace the customer base that’s dying off. Again, they’re working from the same playbook. And if they can crosspollinate each other, and sell cigarettes and alcohol and gambling, then that’s what they’ll do.

CHW: So, do you think there’s any conscious collaboration between the alcohol and the tobacco industry?

JBROWN: Well, it’s conscious in the advertising companies that they use, yeah. If you’ll look behind the scenes, you’ll find that a number of the advertising companies that advertise alcohol also advertise tobacco. They’re collaborating in that sense. They may not be holding meetings together, and I’m not so sure that they won’t, or are not; but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they did.

CHW: Is there any documentation of the alcohol industry’s marketing techniques?

JBROWN: Oh, absolutely. Go on the website. You’ll see Power Master Malt Liquor – targeted to young black men. We stopped them from advertising their product and that product [was] withdrawn from the market. That was a high alcoholic content beverage. Yes, alcohol does the exact same thing. They still do it. They just get away with it more often right now.

CHW: Do you see any similarities between the role of tobacco and alcohol corporations and food corporations in the black community?

JBROWN: The answer is “Yes, in one sense of the word.” And this is one of those things where I think the greater weight lies with personal responsibility as opposed to corporate responsibility. A soda, if taken in moderation, will not kill you. Unlike a cigarette, don’t matter how you take it, it could catch up with you somewhere down the line. I mean, you know, it’s that kind of thing. But I think we can win the battle. I would tone down the industry’s promotion of their product, and force them to better tell the truth in their marketing promotion. I also think we need a public promotion campaign that really promotes healthy lifestyles, health living, and its benefits. If we get just as good at talking about the benefits and promoting a healthy lifestyle as the industry does at promoting fast foods, or promoting alcohol, or promoting tobacco, then I think we can easily win the battle. It’s like, one of the things we were promoting, way back when, was if the tobacco industry was going to continue to advertise, they had to turn over a quarter to one third of all billboard advertising to public health messages about tobacco, which we would design and put up there. They didn’t want to do that. And the reason is simple. Our one good message would outdo three of theirs any day.

CHW: They’d rather have nothing up there.

JBROWN: They would rather have nothing up there. Correct. Because they can then go to putting it in magazines, and continue to give away T-Shirts and caps. They’re getting a lot of what we call “unpaid walking billboards.” You know, those whole campaigns.

CHW: Apparently, a lot of young people wear these items.

JBROWN: Yes. That’s why we had the T-Shirt/Cap exchange.

CHW: It was mostly young people that you did this with?

JBROWN: Oh, no. We actually got them from everybody. We did this in front of the police department. You know, the police department came out there and were bringing alcohol advertising off the walls of the police department to exchange. It was wonderful. And you actually get more adults who readily take this up than you do young people. Young people always take free stuff, but here we’ll get adults exchanging stuff with us, more than we did the kids. But the point was, we’re taking advertising off the street.

CHW: The tobacco industry has a history of financial involvement in the African American community, as well. Is that correct?

JBROWN: That’s correct.

CHW: So, in your own experience in Philadelphia, have campaigns and awareness and public education had an affect on how community groups and businesses deal financially with the tobacco industry?

JBROWN: Yes. For a number of those groups it has been “Hush money.” And some of the civic and social organizations that have traditionally led battles to stop the exploitation of African Americans were silent or in some cases even promoted the interests of the tobacco industry or the alcohol industry. Even Ebony magazine has not done due diligence in providing ongoing information about the effects of tobacco, even with the huge effect tobacco has on the black community. And, of course, they didn’t do it because they were receiving ad revenues from the tobacco companies. In the millions and millions of dollars.

CHW: Does your organization accept funding from tobacco corporations?

JBROWN: Absolutely not. Matter of fact, if a group receives tobacco money in any way, shape, or form — or alcohol money, we will not directly work with that organization.

CHW: What do you think the role of the tobacco industry and their policies and practices in exacerbating health disparities?

JBROWN: A high percentage of African Americans smoke mentholated cigarettes. And until we made a big noise in the last few years, no one had even tested the notion of whether or not menthol contributed to a higher disease rate which would impact African Americans more highly than others. We believe it does because all of the studies, even the industry studies, show that menthol in a burned form is, in itself, a carcinogen. So African Americans may have been deliberately targeted by the industry with a more addictive and more deadly product.

CHW: In closing, I’d like to ask, what are your thoughts on the potential of the tobacco industry to be held accountable for its impact on the health of the Africa American community, or the public health in general?

JBROWN: Well, there are two things that I think that can make that happen. One is that people really get upset over it. And two, we put a Congress in there who actually do their jobs to protect the public interest around these issues. And we haven’t had a Congress that has been out there to protect the public’s interest around this. And you know, they get a lot of money from the industry, as well. So they formulate their opinions based on how much money they get. And regardless of what they say, we know that the vast majority of legislators that are receiving $50,000 — even $5,000. It doesn’t take much, apparently, to buy off a legislator. They have been extremely solid. They have not protected America’s interests.