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Transcripts: 505-1 to 505-5
Week: 505.1 Guest: Alan Blum, M.D. Topic: Tobacco Advertising - Part One Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham
NEMA: This is a five part series on smoking, tobacco advertising and the aborted "Sixty Minutes" tobacco story with Dr. Alan Blum from the organization DOC or Doctors Ought To Care.
NEMA: Dr. Blum, it's been quite a while since the last program you and I did on tobacco advertising but between the lawsuits by individual states to recoup smoking related health costs and the pounding the tobacco companies are taking from the media, they must at long last finally be losing revenue and suffering financially. Right?
BLUM: Cigarette companies, in spite of all the adverse publicity that they have gotten over the last year, are at record profits levels. The tobacco business is more profitable than ever before. Sales of cigarettes in the United States really are not doing badly at all. The problem is that the folks that are trying to fight smoking are health people. They are public health folks. They are physicians, very well-intentioned health educators but this is not just a health issue. This is a business issue and as an advertising person said to me once at a big meeting at the National Cancer Institute, in frustration he wondered why in the world were all these health educators and physicians getting up to talk about their campaigns against smoking. I mean, if you had a sore throat you wouldn't go to an advertising man to cure it but if you have to reach people with a message you don't hire physicians and health educators who really aren't trained to communicate to vast numbers of people to make a difference.
NEMA: One of the programs we did in the past a year or so ago, you talked about tobacco stocks as a lucrative business investment that had been made and held in the portfolios of many supposedly respectable institutions. Is tobacco stock still considered a wise choice?
BLUM: There were many strategies to try to curtail the effectiveness of tobacco industry propaganda, to try to sabotage the tobacco industry as a legitimate business and overall, to reduce the demand for cigarettes. One of these strategies and perhaps a very small one but one that holds potential is to urge each and every institution and certainly every health group that has anything to do with profiting off investments in tobacco or tobacco related businesses to divest of these shares. So for instance it's clear that no hospital or medical school would be caught dead holding Philip Morris stocks or R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. It wouldn't look good for one thing. But I think a more sophisticated approach is to look at all of the allies of the tobacco industry and that's where DOC or the group that I head up is looking at along with the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility. We're looking at shareholders resolutions that will begin to expose the incredible connections between, believe it or not, pharmaceutical companies and tobacco companies or health insurance companies and tobacco companies and I find that in talking to audiences, there's no more enraging comment and no more important issue to raise with health professionals than the fact that such pharmaceutical companies as 3M which makes Scotch Tape but also surgical masks and heart and lung equipment also has one of the largest billboard companies in the world and one of its leading clients is the cigarette industry.
NEMA: Join me for part two on tobacco advertising with Dr. Alan Blum.
Week: 505.2 Guest: Alan Blum, M. D. Topic: Tobacco Advertising - Part Two Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham
NEMA: This is part two in a five part series on smoking, tobacco advertising and the aborted "Sixty Minutes" tobacco story with Dr. Alan Blum from the organization DOC or Doctors Ought To Care.
BLUM: 3M which makes Scotch Tape but also surgical masks and heart and lung equipment also has one of the largest billboard companies in the world and one of its leading clients is the cigarette industry so it's exposing that connection and getting these companies to choose between a health company or being a cigarette promoting company that I think gets the public really involved in this kind of an issue.
NEMA: I don't want to get off on too much of a tangent about this but when you talk about someone who has a billboard company, isn't their decision to censor someone from advertising on that billboard, doesn't that violate their constitutional right for free expression?
BLUM: There's no such thing as violating the first amendment if you refuse to accept an ad for publication or for publication on your billboard. The first amendment only applies to the right to have your message uncensored but if you have a private enterprise such as a billboard company or a newspaper, they can turn down ads left and right. The New York Times has turned down several of our ads that sought to embarrass the Times for its association with the tobacco industry and more power to them. USA Today is another major promoter of cigarettes to its outdoor advertising operation and you bet your boots they're going to censor or refuse to accept advertisements that will embarrass Gannett. That's not violating the first amendment. They own the presses. The first amendment violations only come about when someone literally tries to prevent you from speaking out.
NEMA: If you can legally ration health care which is basically happening more and more all the time, it's certainly becoming very prevalent in certain states in this country, if you can actually say to someone - even though you're dying, I will not give you this because I think the money can be better spent over here - why can't you legally control health destruction such as with cigarettes?
BLUM: The FDA and Commissioner Kessler deserve a lot of credit for becoming the first FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, in history to try to take on cigarettes head on. I think unfortunately they haven't understood how adept the tobacco industry is in circumventing almost any kind of regulation that they have proposed. For instance, the best single thing that ever happened to the tobacco industry in my opinion was the invention of the filter. That's what is analogous to what's going on now by talk of regulating nicotine. The lung cancer reports came out in the late 1940s, early 1950s, and it was getting a little harder to sell cigarettes to the public that was beginning to get scared that gee, this stuff could really kill you so some bright advertising person came up with the filter and the filter was not invented for scientific purposes in my opinion. It was invented to allay anxiety and in fact the early cigarette filters were made out of asbestos. One company advertised - "So safe, so pure, it's used to filter the air in many hospitals." The filter was really the first consumer fraud that was created by the cigarette industry with the express purpose of allaying anxiety over health.
NEMA: Join me for part three on tobacco advertising with Dr. Alan Blum.
Week: 505.3 Guest: Alan Blum, M. D. Topic: Tobacco Advertising - Part Three Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham
NEMA: This is part three in a five part series on smoking, tobacco advertising and the aborted "Sixty Minutes" tobacco story with Dr. Alan Blum from the organization DOC or Doctors Ought To Care.
BLUM: The filter was really the first consumer fraud that was created by the cigarette industry with the express purpose of allaying anxiety over health. Now they had come up with all sorts of moistening agents and things that they promoted over the years that alleged that the smoke would be less irritating but the filter was clearly there to say - "Don't worry, now you can take in the good stuff and filter out the bad stuff." And that was the whole thing that I think turned this industry around from one that could have easily been destroyed by all the scientific reports to one that falsely allowed people to believe that you could smoke more safely. The second most important thing that ever happened to them was the creation of what's called the low-tar cigarettes. Now I dare you to ask the next person you meet who smokes - "Do you smoke a filter or why do you smoke low tar?" - because they'll look at you like you're crazy. Well, of course if you're going to smoke, you might as well smoke low tar because it's safer and then you watch as they're a little unsure of themselves, as you say "Safer than what, than fresh air?" Because low-tar cigarettes are not in fact safer. All they do is allay your anxiety. Tar just means poisons. You could say that tar means crap - carbon-rich antibolic products. CRAP. And you wouldn't go out and buy a loaf of Wonder Bread that had only two ounces of crap in every loaf or you wouldn't buy a loaf of Wonder Bread that had only two ounces of poison in every loaf and yet that's exactly how cigarettes are promoted. So what's going to happen, guaranteed, is when the FDA gets permission to go and regulate the nicotine content of cigarettes, not only will people smoke more of these because you have to inhale more deeply to absorb the nicotine so you're going to get a compensatory effect, you're going to see cigarette consumption at least among those who still smoke rising and you're going to wind up doing the tobacco industry a big favor.
NEMA: There are a curious combination of people right now who find themselves agreeing on one thing - that they don't like David Kessler and interestingly enough, the tobacco companies are one of them and vitamin manufacturers are another. I think Dr. Kessler is in for an even tougher time than he's been in the past. What is the status of the FDA's attempts to regulate nicotine as a pharmaceutical substance?
BLUM: If I were the tobacco industry, I would be saying - please don't regulate us... please don't regulate our nicotine...oh please don't tell us what to do...we don't want to be regulated... - and fight and fight and fight and if I were B'rer Rabbit, I'd be yelling "Please B'rer Fox and B'rer Bear, don't throw me in that briar patch," because the tobacco industry, very much like B'rer Rabbit is very very capable of living in the briar patch. That's their natural habitat. They don't exactly mind being called merchants of death. The devil can't stand to be mocked. The devil doesn't like to be ridiculed. And that's what I think we should be doing. I don't think we should be taking the tobacco industry so seriously. We should be making fun of these despicable companies. We should enlist other corporations to do the work for us and with us and not rely on very well-intentioned, morally earnest physicians and other health professionals who after all have very little experience in the corporate world.
NEMA: Join me for part four on tobacco advertising with Dr. Alan Blum.
Week: 505.4 Guest: Alan Blum, M. D. Topic: Tobacco Advertising - Part Four Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham
NEMA: This is part four in a five part series on smoking, tobacco advertising and the aborted "Sixty Minutes" tobacco story with Dr. Alan Blum from the organization DOC or Doctors Ought To Care.
BLUM: DOC supports the FDA regulations and I think that President Clinton has to get an enormous share of credit for being the first president to target the tobacco industry and not just smoking. I mean, he has stated things that I think very few elected officials have ever said or done and in and of itself, that has buoyed all of us who have spent many years working in this issue so while in supporting the FDA proposals it's important to understand that a lot of them are not going to make much of a difference. So although it might sound like I'm skeptical of what they're going to do, I am indeed, but clearly having these regulations would be better than not having them. Putting billboards 1,001 feet away from the schools instead of 1,000 feet doesn't exactly impress me as a very good step to do because that's only a make believe kind of approach and I'm not certain that regulating nicotine would do very much at all but I do feel that by curbing some of the promotional activities of the tobacco industry, making it more difficult to promote their products, they're on the right track. This is no solution. It's a very small first step and if that goes down to defeat, if health professionals don't write in and try to support the FDA, we're going to lose that momentum.
NEMA: There was a recent controversial story that was supposed to run on CBS's "Sixty Minutes." It ended up being dumped rather than run because of legal complications. There's been a relatively small amount of reporting about what actually happened there but it appears that it had to do with the tobacco companies clout and their ability to put a stop to something that they don't really want to have to deal with. Is that true or is there more to it than meets the eye?
BLUM: The Brown & Williamson tobacco executive story on "Sixty Minutes" is very interesting because "Sixty Minutes" portrayed itself as a kind of martyr to the powers that be that ran CBS. It turns out though that the source that was supposedly cut out of the story about the cigarette industry was paid $12,000 for previous work by "Sixty Minutes" to help them on a story and I don't like the notion of checkbook journalism so I think that there is some skepticism about having a source that you've paid for. He was a vice-president for Brown & Williamson in charge supposedly of helping to find a fire-safe cigarette but I guess the skepticism I have is asking how a guy could go to work for the tobacco industry in 1989 and still live with himself. It's all well and good that he's gone to the other side today but I don't know what the real story is but I think that there is no smoking gun out there. If we have 70,000 research reports showing the devastating impact of cigarette smoking in our society in almost every organ connected to almost every major disease that are the leading killers in society and we can't act, and we have to wait for some secret document to come out, I think it's really missing the whole point of this issue.
NEMA: Join me for part five on tobacco advertising with Dr. Alan Blum.
Week: 505.5 Guest: Alan Blum, M. D. Topic: Tobacco Advertising - Part Five Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham
NEMA: This is part five in a five part series on smoking, tobacco advertising and the aborted "Sixty Minutes" tobacco story with Dr. Alan Blum from the organization DOC or Doctors Ought To Care, an organization dedicated to the challenge of countering the tobacco industry's $6 billion yearly advertising budget.
NEMA: What are you and DOC trying to do right now? What is the program that you're on to try to curtail tobacco sales to children particularly?
BLUM: There is a key element that's not being done in this particular health pandemic of smoking and that is reducing demand. A lot of the efforts made in the name of demand reduction are really controlling the supply such as trying to prevent teenagers from being able to buy cigarettes. That runs the risk of creating forbidden fruit. It hasn't affected enormously in many places college-age drinking, for instance, by raising the drinking age. We still have to grapple with this problem of how the advertising has created demand for drinking. In the same way, we need to look at how cigarette demand has been created in order to undermine it so DOC is up to its old tricks by using our slogan "Laughing the pushers out of town." And we're launching to compete with the Marlboro Unlimited Train Sweepstakes and the Marlboro Adventure Team and the Marlboro Gear giveaways, we're launching the Barfboro Barfing Team and the Barfmobile Unlimited that will be traveling all over the country. We have the Barf Man who hands out Barfboro Barf Bags to people that say "Does cigarette advertising make you sick? Us too." And we have an enormous reaction from the kids that are laughing and getting permission to use a little bathroom humor to, as we say, barf on Marlboro. Unless the kids are letting the brand names roll off their tongues and laughing at these brands, I don't think that we're going to succeed by giving them lectures on the dangers of nicotine. The other promotion that we've done over the years, of course, is the Emphysema Slims Tennis Tournaments with Billie Jean Butthead and Martina Nosmoke-inova. And those are the kinds of things that at long last give kids permission to laugh at the real authority figures, believe it or not, the athletes that play in these cigarette sponsored tennis tournaments and the cigarette companies themselves and they realized that doctors and nurses and teachers and parents are not the real authority figures in their lives. It's the folks on Madison Avenue that are ripping them off.
NEMA: I take it you deem it a little bit disingenuous when a tobacco executive says that it's up to a parent to keep their child from smoking.
BLUM: The tobacco companies are very laughable. Our whole society is based on what we call individual responsibility but when you're spending $6 billion a year to try to influence that choice, it becomes a little ridiculous to think that a parent can overcome the child's urges to get a Kawasaki motorcycle when he's a teenager just starting to drive or a kid who wants to have video games and so forth. Cigarettes are no different. They're everywhere. They're at all of the events that we like to go to. We monitor sporting events and it's just astounding how associated cigarettes are now with motor racing and with rodeo and with many of the activities that are becoming increasingly popular and that kids are at.
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