Warning: sports stars may be hazardous to your health.
In case you missed it, this year's press guide to the Women's International Tennis Association is an impressive volume. Its 456 glossy pages bear tribute to what the guide immodestly calls "one of the greatest success stories of the modem sports world"-how women's tennis stepped from obscurity into the limelight of the Virginia Slims circuit, where this year players will compete for more than $17 million in prize money. Just twenty years ago, the nation's best women tennis players languished before small crowds on high school courts. Now, the guide says, with their own massage therapists and "state-of-theart forecasting system," they've become "synonymous with style." They're synonymous with wealth, too: Chris Evert's $8.6 million in lifetime earnings places her a distant second to Martina Navratilova's $14 million. But most of all, they're synonymous with fine physical form. Sprinkled throughout the media guide are photos of athletes in peak physical condition: Manuela Maleeva bends "low for a forehand volley," "Hana Mandlikova intently awaits a return," "Gabriela Sabatini puts to use her smashing' backhand."
Those of us less physically gifted than Hana Mandlikova can't help but envy the strength in her legs, power in her arms, and stamina in her lungs as
she pauses, racket poised, before exploding into her backhand. It's precisely the rareness of these qualities that brings us to admire her so, and to pause a moment when looking at her picture. Because as Hana Mandlikova intently awaits a return, she does so in front of a big sign that says "Virginia Slims"-a product not known for promoting the powers of heart and lung that lie at the center of her trade. In fact, throughout the guide-not to mention the nation's sports pages and television broadcasts-we find these stars showeasing their enviable talents in front of cigarette ads. The bold corporate logo of the Virginia Slims series emphasizes the bond: a woman, sassy and sleek, holds a racket in one hand and a cigarette in the other. This is odd. Tennis champions, after all, are models of health, particularly the health of heart and lungs, where endurance is essential. And cigarette smoking, as the Surgeon General recently reminded, "is the chief avoidable cause of death
in our society"-death, more precisely, from heart and lung disease.
Struck by this seeming contradiction, I called Renee Bloch Shallouf, whom the guide lists as Media Services Manager for the players union, and asked if she, too, was impressed with the incongruity. "I think I'll defer this one over to Virginia Slims," she said. "They're the sponsor. We're just the players union. All I can do is give you a personal opinion."
"What is your personal opinion?" "Noo-hoooo," she said, keeping the answer to herself.
Shallouf ended the conversation by saying, "If I find somebody opinionated-someone willing to give their opinion-around here, I'll call you." Turning back to the media guide, I flipped to the section marked "Virginia Slims Personnel," and, to my surprise, found a familiar face on the page. There, bearing the impressive title of "Director, Worldwide Operations," was Anne Person, a college classmate of mine. Perhaps she would have some thoughts on the compatibility of tennis and tobacco. But, though she answers a phone at Philip Morris headquarters, she said she was only a "consultant" and that she worked "only on the tennis end." As for her thoughts about tobacco, she said, "I just can't do it. I don't choose to do it. . . . Regarding the tobacco issue, I don't choose to share my opinions." She suggested I call Steve Weiss, the manager of media relations for Philip Morris, U.S.A. When I did, Weiss sounded astonished. He said he found the question-is there a contradiction between the vigor of athletics and the disease caused by cigarettes?-a breach of journalistic ethics. "Are you editorializing?" he said. "I disagree with your premises. . . You're saying that cigarette smoking causes a disease? Can I ask you something? Is that your opinion? That's a very opinionated statement. I'd appreciate a little more openmindedness. . . . I disagree with a journalist who calls and issues a very opinionated statement, when the credo of journalism is balance, fairness, and accuracy." He referred me to the code of reportorial probity, as articulated by the professional society, Sigma Delta Chi. We backed up and started again. Q: Does smoking lead to disease?
A: "I'm not a doctor. I would leave that to more informed individuals."
Q: Is the Surgeon General an informed individual?
A: "I think the Surgeon General is but one voice among many in the continuing debate about cigarette smoking."
On it went for about an hour, a stock recitation of the Philip Morris line. Or almost-there was a momentary point of diversion. Insisting that Philip Morris was not trying to make cigarettes seem glamorous, Weiss said, "We don't ask any of our players to smoke. I doubt many, if any, do."
Hmmm.... and why is that?
Then, growing agitated, Weiss said, "That's their choice. You have to ask them. I'm not qualified to answer that. I am absolutely not qualified to say what anybody does or does not do. I'm retracting that, Jason ......
At that point, Weiss's voice took on the tin echo of a speaker phone. "I want you to know that I'm recording this conversation," he said. Smokes Illustrated
The fit athletes of the Virginia Slims circuit who swat balls in front of cigarette ads, in a tournament named for a cigarette brand, pocketing large sums from a cigarette company's largesse, are but a small subset of the great marriage of sports and tobacco. A large and growing number of sports now lend their athletes' credibility as fine physical specimens to the tobacco companies, whose products, by the Surgeon General's estimate, kill about 1,000 people a day. Cigarette manufacturers exploit sporting events in a variety of ways, ranging from such old-fashioned strategies as stadium advertising to the virtual invention of eponymous sports, like Winston Series Drag Racing or Marlboro Cup horseracing. When the pitchmen of Philip Morris say, "You've come a long way baby," they could very well be congratulating
themselves; their success in co-opting the nation's health elite to promote a product that leads to an array of fatal discases is extraordinary. But they couldn't have done it alone. For starters, they needed the cooperation of the athletes, and, with a few praiseworthy exceptions, they've gotten it. When Billie Jean King set out 20 years ago to find a sponsor for women's tennis, she may have needed Philip Morris as much as it needed her. But these days, she and the other stars of women's tennis have actually had to fight off other corporate sponsors who would welcome the chance to take over. The tobacco companies have also needed the help of sports journalists, and, again, they've gotten it. The daily papers have been silent. The big magazines, like Sports Illustrated, are thick with tobacco ads and thin on tobacco critics. And the networks have been perfectly happy to show an infield decked with Marlboro banners, race cars painted with Marboro signs, officials wearing Marlboro logos-while pretending that cigarette ads are still banned from the air.
The marriage of cigarettes and sports has at least three insidious consequences. The first, and perhaps most troubling, is that it obscures the connection of cigarettes and disease, subliminally and perhaps even consciously. Quick: speak the words "Virginia Slims" and what do you see? A) Chris Evert, or B) the cancer ward? If you answered A)-and most people do-then Philip Morris has you right where it wants you. (The recognition of this power is why the soccer star Pele won't pose near cigarette signs.) The second troubling fact about cigarettes' tryst with sport is that it allows them to penetrate the youth market. Cigarette spokesmen self-righteously insist they have no such goal. But tobacco companies desperately need teen smokers for the simple reason that few people start smoking once they are adults; and there's scarcely anyone more glamorous to a teenager than a star athlete. The third reason why cigarettes' infiltration of athletics is bad is that it circumvents the ban on television ads. Previously, cigarette companies had to hire actors to play athletes in their commercials, but now they've got the real thing. Emphysema Slims
For those keeping moral score, cigarettes' involvement with aerobic sports, like tennis and soccer, is probably the most indefensible, since the respiratory fitness those sports require and represent is precisely what cigarettes deprive people of. That is, race car drivers can smoke and drive, but soccer stars certainly can't smoke and sprint. That doesn't mean race car drivers are welcome to promote cigarettes, of course. Their ties to tobacco endanger the public health by
continuing to make cigarettes seem glamorous to kids, and by keeping the cigarette signs on T.V.
For leads on many of the following items, I am indebted to Dr. Alan Blum, a Baylor physician whose anti-smoking research and protests (like the staging of an "Emphysema Slims") makes him the Don King of the anti-smoking world:
4 Soccer: Besides the world's most enviable lungs, soccer offers cigarettes two other advantages: wild overseas popularity at a time when American tobacco companies are stepping up their Third World trade, and a growing popularity among American youth.
Camel cigarettes, manufactured by R.J. Reynolds, was one of four major sponsors of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico City. Among the privileges it received in return was the chance to post four sevenmeter Camel signs next to the field, where the worldwide television audience of 650 million for the final game alone could see them.
A brochure by ISL Marketing, a firm that handles World Cup marketing, explains: "The launch of their Camel Filters in Mexico was arranged to coincide with World Cup 86 .... The team of Camel girls was stationed at each stadium distributing free samples ... Sponsorship of World Cup 86 provided Camel with a golden profile that reflected its product image of independence, masculinity, and adventure."
Earlier in the decade, RJR even tried to field its own World Cup club. In sponsoring the 1983 "Winston Team America Series," it compiled an allstar team and held a 30-game series against the pros in major stadiums across the country. During halftime, fans joined a contest to kick a ball through the "o" in a Winston sign.
I Baseball: Cigarette companies have ads in 22 of the 24 Major League ballparks in the United States, typically in spots that enhance broadcast coverage. The camera near the visiting team dugout at Shea Stadium, for instance, which is used to capture men leading off first base, frames the player with the Marlboro sign in left-center. [See photo, page 35.1 At Fenway Park in Boston, a sign for the Jimmy Fund for cancer research, a favorite Red Sox charity, hangs above the right field bleacher. So does a Marlboro sign.
Skiing: For about eight years, until last season, Loew's sponsored the Newport Ski Weekend, which offered half-price lift tickets in exchange for cigarette boxes. Philip Morris invites skiers at a number of Western resorts to take the "Marlboro Challenge," a plunge down a timed race course festooned with Marlboro flags.
In the 1983-84 season, RJR's brand, Export A, became the official sponsor of the Canadian Ski Association, which oversees the country's major
competitions. The company's original contract called for "the exclusive right
. . .to identify itself or its products (including name, logo, and colours) on: flags, poles, course markers, scoreboards, award presentations, start banners . . .all buildings, podiums, backdrops ...... To be sure no one missed the point, the contract added: "The Association shall use its
best efforts to have the events telecast on national network television." But the Canadian skiers rebelled, with some refusing to accept league trophies. The contract was modified following the protest, and the controversy led finally to a ban on all tobacco advertising in Canada. Ken Read, who represented Canada twice in Olympic
skiing and is now a broadcaster, was among the leaders of the protest. "I think it's inappropriate for a cigarette to sponsor any sporting event-period," he said. "It's incompatible with the objective of sport-to promote a healthy lifestyle."
I asked Read what he thought about the cigarette companies' argument that they're only promoting brand loyalty and, therefore, not encouraging kids to smoke. "That's absolute garbage," he said. "When you're using sports as a tool, you're influencing youth."
6 Horse racing: Rather than take over an existing horse race, in 1973 Philip Morris simply went out and created one from scratch: the nationally-televised Marlboro Cup, which it sponsored until 1987.
In a interview with The Daily Racing Form, Ellen Merlo, director of marketing promotions at Philip Morris, explained the event's appeal: "First, it has created enormous visibility for Marlboro. There are newspaper stories leading up to and following the race that mention the Marlboro name frequently, and this is excellent exposure. Secondly the image of horse racing and the imagery of the Marlboro Man campaign seem to have reinforced each other. The man on the horse theme is central to both, and we feel it has worked well as a partnership."
Autoracing: Since 1971, RJR has been the chief sponsor of NASCAR's premier circuit, the $18 million, 29-race Winston Cup Series. This is a sport that has other problems besides cigarette sponsorship, of course-such as encouraging 16-year-olds to play Richard Petty on the interstate. As they do, the word "Winston" may quickly come to mind: one of the races is called the Winston 500; another is simply known as The Winston. The driver who accumulates the most points during the season wins the $1 million Winston Cup. The driver who wins three of the top four races wins a bonus called, accurately, the Winston Million-you get the idea.
"We're in the cigarette business. We're not in the sports business. We use sports as an avenue for advertising our products. . . ." said Wayne Robertson, an RJR executive, in a trade journal. "We can go into an area where we're marketing an event, measure sales during the event and measure sales after the event, and see an increase in sales."
If this list seems lengthy, don't forget it omits the Vantage Golf Scoreboard, Salem Pro-Sail races, Lucky Strike bowling, the Winston Rodeo, Benson & Hedges on Ice, and any number of other cigarette sponsored sports. It also omits Camille Duvall, champion water skier and the cover girl for the current issue of Philip Morris Magazine, where the company that insists its interest in athletes has nothing to do with glamour, describes her as "gor-
geous-swimsuit issue, pack-it-in-Paulina, no-exaggeration, gorgeous."
Those who think that tobacco's conquest of sport is complete, however, can take heart-according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Philip Morris recently lost the $12,000 sponsorship of the U.S. boomerang team to an anti-smoking group called Doctors Ought to Care, which is run by Alan Blum. Philip Morris "promised us all kinds of publicity," the team captain, Eric Shouffer, told the newspaper. "If we'd wear big Philip Morris logos on our chest, they told us we'd be on Good Morning America' and so on."
It wasn't just conscience that governed the team's decision, Shouffer said, but practical considerations, too: One member is an asthmatic "who falls over dead when he gets near smokers." The man with the cough
Lung cancer, which is almost always fatal, is a curiously polite disease. It glides through the body, making itself at home but careful not to cause a fuss. The chest may be its harbor but it can sail whereever bloodstream goes, and it explores the body at leisure. It can list south toward the groin, or tack its way north to the brain; it can stretch out yawning on beaches of bone marrow. It is lazy and can afford to be. It is confident. It announces itself at the time of its choosing. One day, it knocks.
By then, the average man-or increasingly, woman-hasn't been feeling his usual robust self for three months or so. He's 55 or 60 years old, and has been smoking most of his life, but never had any problems as a result. It was just a cough at first, with a bit of mucous, and sure to go away in another week. Then the mucous disappeared, but the cough kept hanging on. His appetite began to slow.
Let's have a look, the physician says. Though there's something oddly meassuring about the touch of his 'old stethoscope on the patient's chest and back, it's less meassuring to be directed in front of the X-ray machine. There is something there, the doctor reports-pneumonia, maybe-but he's careful not to sound too alarmed. It might be nothing that 10 days of antibiotic-s can't cute. Ten days later, when the cough and the spot on the X-ray have endured, it's time for another look.
The word cancer has been there all along, b t no one's wanted to say it. And with good reason-from the time it first gets uttered, the average lung cancer patient will live less than three years. Perhaps the doctor will say it first: The purpose of the biopsy, he explains, is "to rule out cancer." A phrase like "let's not get worried until we know, what we're dealing with" will almost certainly follow. We're just going
to remove a small piece of tissue, the physician says; you can expert some discomfort.
Draped in a soft blue gown, the man with the enough gets it wheeled into a 65-degree room, where a surgeon snakes an optic fiber-down his throat and snatches a piece of lung. A pathologist slices the sample, using one portion to prepare a quick slide and saving the rest for future tests. In the waiting room, there is a human community-wife, children, friends from work, grandchildren perhaps-that is connected through nerves and fears, or, maybe, prayers. The initial indication may come as quickly as 15 minutes, but final confirmation can take three or four days itself a sample of the waiting that will fill future months. Time seems to stop until the word arrives.
If the word is something like squamous cell carcino- ma-lung cancer there will begin a difficult discus- sion indeed.
Hacking hags Whether or not the figure of 1,000 deaths a day presents tobacco companies with a moral challenge, it certainly presents them with an economic one: how to replace the thousands of people their products kill each week. To some extent, cigarette companies have
been losing the war. In 1965, 40 percent of American adults smoked; by 1987, this figure had dropped off to 29 percent. But while cigarette consumption is declining, it's declining least among blacks, women, high school drop-outs, blue-collar workers, and other groups whose members tend to lead more difficult lives. The more marginal one's status in society, the more likely one is to smoke. Since 1971, when the ban on televised cigarette ads took effect, the cigarette companies' efforts to reach their target audiences have grown more complicated. The story of the ad ban is an interesting one in itself, and perhaps its most salient moral is that, despite the immense wealth and power of the tobacco companies, there is, in fact, much that one person can do. In this case, the person was John Banzhaf, a 26-year-old law school graduate. Noting the saturation of TV with cigarette ads, he sent off a three-page letter to the Federal Communications Commission, arguing that the Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters to give anti-smoking groups their say. To nearly everyone's surprise, the FCC agreed, announcing in 1967 that henceforth broadcasters should air one antismoking spot for every three or four cigarette commercials.
Anti-smoking groups took to the air with an inordinate amount of creativity. Though television viewers
were still being blitzed with ads that showed happy smokers in vigorous poses, now they received other visions too: a Marlboro-like man, bursting boldly through the saloon doors, only to collapse in a fit of coughs; a wrinkled hag on a respirator, cigarette in hand, asking, "Aren't I sexy?" Though still outnumbered, these hacking, wincing images of death began to register: cigarette consumption declined in each of the next four years. The cigarette companies weren't just losing the battle; through the Fairness Doctrine they were subsidizing the other side's artillery. In 1970, they went to Congress to say they wanted out. The withdrawal wasn't as easy as it might seem, however. If one company withdrew its ads, it ceded an advantage to its competitors; if all withdrew at once, they were subject to antitrust reprisals for collusion. What they needed was an order: ban us, they asked. Perhaps the constituency least pleased by this prospect was the broadcasters, who were then banking about $250 million a year in tobacco ad revenues. Though Congress finally passed the ban over the broadcasters' objections, the TV executives, to whom the term "conscience-stricken" could not fairly be applied, did win a soothing concession: the ban didn't take effect until midnight on January 1, 1971-after the commercial-thick bowl games were aired. Cigarette strategists now had to contend with a more complicated world. They still needed to saturate the culture with the idea that smoking leads to happiness, but television, their most powerful weapon, seemed off limits. Seemed is the operative word here. By channeling some of that $250 million ad budget into sports sponsorship, cigarette companies were right back on the air. Consider the timing: Virginia Slims, born 1971; Winston Cup racing, born 1971; Marlboro Cup horse racing, born 1973. Sports sponsorship has become such an spectacular success that by now all kinds of corporations want in-the John Hancock Bowl, the Mazda Gator Bowl. "We have a waiting list for inside billboards," says Jane Allen, who works in the marketing department of the Charlotte Motor Speedway. "Everybody in the business knows it's because of TV coverage." A cardinal sins
But tobacco's problems extended beyond the TV ban, and sports was only part of the answer. Since 1964, the industry had been stuck with the Surgeon General's warnings and increasingly vocal criticisms of their products. What the tobacco industry needed was friends, and its strategy for finding them was sound: it decided to buy them. Donning the mask of philanthropy, the tobacco companies have courted
not only athletes but ballerinas, modem dancers, jazz musicians, museum curators, unions, civil rights groups, feminists, religious leaders-almost anyone with a glimmer of uprightness and a use for cash.
The Guggenheim Museum. The Joffrey Ballet. The Whitney. The purpose of this fevered gift-giving has been to divert the public's attention from what tobacco companies really do: lure people, particularly young ones, into buying a highly addictive drug, which, if used as intended, courts death. In this, they are no different than crack peddlers. The Surgeon General has likened the addictive powers of nicotine to those of heroin and cocaine: all of them create psychological and physical cravings; each causes a chemical reaction that makes the body want more. As anyone understands who's watched someone they care for try to quit, the pack-a-day smoker "chooses" his habit as freely as the cocaine addict chooses his. Cocaine and heroin inflict their damage more quickly; but cigarettes kill more widely. It is cigarettes, not cocaine, that cause about 390,000 deaths each year according to C. Everett Koop. In respectable society today, cocaine peddlers are objects of scorn. But cigarette peddlers are jauntily strolling the halls of their latest museum exhibits. The tobacco companies need this false status as respectable corporations in order to survive. If the world saw them as the drug pushers they are, Congress would ban their ads, if not their product, and Drug Czars would join the fray. By accepting tobacco sponsorship, the country's singers, dancers, curators, and the like help ensure this doesn't happen. While accepting the Devil's money may be defensible if you give nothing in return, the recipients of tobacco largesse have given something very precious
indeed, the one thing the cigarette sellers could never earn on their own: respect.
Thus comes Philip Morris beneficiary Alvin Ailey, writing the Surgeon General last year to call tobacco executives "enlightened. . . . generous patrons," and to argue that, "A nation has a cultural health as well as a physical health." Thus comes Terrence Cardinal Cooke to say a prayer at a cigarette-sponsored display of Vatican art, leading one Philip Morris vice president to boast, "We're probably the only cigarette company on this earth to be blessed by a cardinal."
While tobacco's been busy assembling this circle of courtiers, athletes aren't just any members of the court. Their unique evocation of health, access to television, and influence on teenagers makes them especially prized, and a report this year by the Surgeon General adds extra emphasis to the point about youth: "The uptake of smoking is now a phenomenon that occurs almost entirely during the teenage years
Tobacco spokesmen have a way of sounding positively wounded when someone suggests they're scheming to entice the young-the Tobacco Institute even funds an anti-teenage smoking program. It's not advertising or athletes that cause teenagers to start smoking, but "peer pressure," says Steve Weiss, the Philip Morris spokesman and ethics buff. As if peer pressure were something that filtered down through the ozone layer and had nothing to do with race cars and tennis stars.
Mets to RJR: Drop dead
Of course, cigarette companies couldn't co-opt athletics if athletics wasn't willing to be co-opted. For the most part, that willingness consists not of active promotion but of silence, which is just as necessary to the cigarette salesmen's success. Imagine how many baseball fans, teenage and adult, would get the message if Darryl Strawberry held a press conference to denounce the indecency the Marlboro sign lends to the Shea Stadium outfield. Or better yet, trotted out with a paint brush to cover it up. What could the Mets management do? Bench him?
While Strawberry's probably valuable enough to get away with it on his own, lots of lesser players aren't. Alone, that is. But imagine if the entire Mets roster signed a petition, refusing to play the 1990 season under the Marlboro banner-refusing to donate their authority as athletes, T.V. stars, and teen idols to the nation's number one health hazard. Look northward, New York Mets! The Canadian skiers told RJR to drop dead-you can, too!
What the athletes need is a little leadership, and one place where you might hope to find it is the office of
Dr. Bobby Brown, the American League president, former New York Yankee, and cardiologist. In 1985, Alan Blum, the anti-smoking activist, wrote to Brown and suggested he do something to remove cigarette ads from stadiums. Brown wrote back a nothing-I-can-do letter ("legally permitted forced to recognize an individual's rights") promising serenely that, "This is an ongoing problem, however, that we will continue to address."
I called Brown recently to see how the progress was coming. Major League Baseball, after all, forbids athletes from smoking in uniform-why can't it forbid them from playing in front of cigarette billboards? Isn't the purpose of the uniform ban to keep baseball players from promoting cigarettes? Brown couldn't have been more disingenuous: he said he didn't know the reason athletes were forbidden to smoke in uniform, just that it was on the books and he didn't feel compelled to change it.
As for billboards, Brown agreed that anytime you have advertising, the tobacco companies think you have a chance of increasing sales-that's why they're doing it." To remove them, however, would be "unre- alistic," since tobacco companies could still advertise elsewhere, such as in subways. Maybe even Brown didn't want to hear himself offer this explanation, however, because he began to sound annoyed. "Who are you, sir?" he asked. "Who funds you?" When I suggested that subways might not pack the prestige of Major League Baseball, and, anyway, someone needed to take the first step, he got angrier. "It's unrealistic for tobacco ads to be removed from baseball parks," he said. Then he hung up.
Most athletes can probably claim to have given the issue little thought (some too convincingly). Brown at least can claim that he's not actively soliciting the billboards, just shrugging his shoulders while others do. But I'd like to know what people like Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, and Martina Navratilova-athletes who have thought it over, and pledged the cigarette companies their fidelity-can claim, but they aren't returning phone calls on the issue.
"I believe in free enterprise," King said in 1983, on one of the few times she's been publicly quizzed on her tobacco ties (significantly, it wasn't a journalist but an anti-smoking activist who asked the question). King went on to say that "Personally, I hate cigarette smoking. I hate cigarettes. Ninety-five percent of the girls do"-as though this excuses her prominent role in their promotion over the past two decades, as though this justifies her taking the court against Bobby Riggs in 1973 dressed in Virginia Slims colors, with Virginia Slims sequins on her chest. What she's saying is this: Let someone else get lung cancer; it won't be me; and I'll get rich and famous in
the process. In the two decades that King's been selling Philip Morris her image of vigor-she not only played Riggs, remember, she beat him-lung cancer has overtaken breast cancer as a leading cause of women's death. And what are King & Co. doing about it now? Continuing to coo about how loyal" Philip Morris has been, while rebuffing a bid by Proctor & Gamble last year to take over the women's tour. Pam Shriver's career earnings are $3.9 million. "I don't feel bad at all about looking somebody in the eye and saying, Virginia Slims is our sponsor,' cause they're a great sponsor," she said in 1986. "Too bad they're a cigarette." The tissues' revenge The average American smoker consumes about 7,000 cigarettes a year. If he inhales each one six times-a modest estimate-4hen 42,000 jet streams a year travel down his throat and into his lungs and out his mouth and nose, bathing the tissues of the respiratory tract in clouds of smoke and nicotine. Lung cancer is the tissues' revenge. Sometime, somehow, a cell rebels and begins to divide. One cell becomes two, the two become four, the four become eight, and the cancer is off and racing. If lung cancer is caught in an early stage, that is, if it's anatomically confined, there's a chance it can be surgically removed. But the disease rarely gives itself away before spreading so far that surgery is no longer an option. Back from biopsy, then, the man with the cough will have two options. The type of lung cancer known as "small cell" may respond to chemotherapy, although the response, even when complete-driving the cancer from all medical detec- tion-almost never stays that way. Doctors know how to kill cancer cells. The problem is what they call the therapeutic-to-toxic ratio"-how to kill cancer cells without killing other cells too. During chemotherapy, the patient will almost surely succumb to wild fits of vomiting. His hair- will fall out. His body will go limp. For days afterwards he may feel too exhausted to lift himself from bed. If the process works and the cancer goes into retreat, chemotherapy can earn the patient a modest extension of life. The second type of lung cancer, known, straightforwardly enough, as "non smallcell lung cancel-," does not respond to chemotherapy. It may respond to radiation. When it's time for the bombardment to begin, the patient will stretch out beneath a linear accelera- tor-a hulking structure that, resembling a 10-foot microscope, hunches over his form. When techni-
cians turn on the switch, a 12.5 ton medical marvel will send between 180 and 300 "rad" burning into the diseased cells. A tumor the size of a cubic cen- timeter the size, say, of a bouillon cube-viill contain about a billion cancerous cells. If treatment kills a billion minus one, the patient is still left with a fatal disease, for the one that survives will continue to divide.
Breast cancer, testicular cancer, prostate cancer, and others have all been known to succumb to the linear accelerator's might. But lung cancer rarely loses. Within five years of diagnosis, 87 percent of those afflicted can expect to be dead.
Lying on the table, the man with the cough feels nothing. Only the tension of waiting. 'A loophole'
Just as it takes a certain physiological culture for cancer to conquer a lung, it takes a certain journalistic one for tobacco to conquer sports. And sports journalists, for the most part, have provided it. The major components of this culture are indifference ("I just report the news; I don't make it") and rationalization ("It's a legal product; people can make their own choices")-with a generous sprinkling of publisher's greed, in the form of cigarette ads. Relish for a moment the thought of a Sam Donaldson of sport trailing Chris Evert and you get a sense of how vulnerable athletes would be to a determined inquiry: "Ms. Evert, lung cancer has just surpassed breast cancer as a killer of women; why do you display your athletic talents in front of that Virginia Slims banner? Don't you care about the welfare of women? Does money mean that much to you?"
And it's not as though sports journalists can't see what's going on. As Lydia Stephans, programming manager for ABC Sports, said, "I'm sure that's why Virginia Slims put up that money-so they could get that recognition, the association with sports and health. Otherwise why would they want to pump millions of dollars into sports? They can't do it by putting a commercial on the T.V. They used to show people sailing around smoking cigarettes. So now they do it through sports... On their half, I think it's clever. They've found a loophole."
As for the dailies, no one who has walked past the sports desk of an average American newspaper is likely to confuse it for a breeding ground of social reform. The idea that they have a moral obligation to speak out against tobacco's role in sport is likely to strike many sportswriters as about as compelling as their obligation to champion educational reform in Zambia. For lots of them, it's just not on the radar.
"We haven't done the piece you're doing. It's a
legitimate story. I'm glad you're doing it," said Leonard Shapiro, sports editor at The Washington Post, who was more thoughtful about the topic than most of the journalists I spoke to. "Maybe it's become such an ingrained part of our culture, it's something we don't even notice." What are the sports editors' options? One strategy might just be to rename the event. When Ellen Merlo of Philip Morris brags about "the newspaper stories leading up to and following the race that mention the Marlboro name frequently," sportswriters could decide that henceforth the "Marlboro Cup" will just become "The Cup." (Newspapers routinely make such judgments about proper editorial content, screening out, say, obscenity.) Failing that, how about a big "Surgeon General's Warning: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and May Complicate Pregnancy" slapped on the photos of the tourney? The sportswriter who, by chance, does develop a Donaldson complex on the issue isn't likely to find great encouragement from above. For one, a number of newspapers have actually allied themselves as cosponsors of cigarette-backed sporting events. The Houston Chronicle, The Houston Post, The Boston Herald, and the Los Angeles Times have all joined
Philip Morris as backers of Virginia Slims events, while the Atlanta Journal joins RJR in financing the Atlanta Journal 500. Ad men
More to the point is a basic fact of American journalism: Publishers like the income from cigarette ads, and few are likely to regard an anti-tobacco crusade as a boon to business. Not many will respond as forthrightly as Mark Hoop, publisher of the Twin Cities Reader, who flatly fired the reporter whose preview of the Kool Jazz Festival pointed out that Duke Ellington had died of lung cancer. (When later asked by ABC News if he'd really said, If we have to fly to Louisville, Kentucky and crawl on bended knees and beg the cigarette company not to take their ads out of our newspaper, we'll do that," Hoop said, True.") But those with a subtler touch will still find a way to communicate that inordinate crusading on the issue does not enhance journalists' career advancement. While actual cigarette advertising in many papers is modest, it's not so modest that publishers are anxious to lose it. (A recent 12-page advertising supplement for Marlboro Grand Prix racing in The New York
Times Magazine cost close to $300,000, according to the Times's advertising department.) And the con- glomerate nature of cigarette ownership may mean that other ad revenues are also at stake: RJR's holdings include Nabisco, Del Monte, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, while Philip Morris controls those of
Seven-Up, the Miller Brewing Company, and General Foods, makers of Jello, Maxwell House, Tang, Oscar Mayer, and so forth. Let no one mistake the point-the cigarette companies haven't been shy about exercising this clout. After the advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi produced a recent anti-smoking commercial for Northwest Airlines, RJR pulled its $70 million Nabisco account. The media's own conglomerate status means it has more than one flank exposed. Denunciations of RJR in The Washington Post could mean fewer ads for Camels, Oreos, and Smirnoff in Newsweek, just as an attack on Virginia Slims in The New York Times could lead to the end of the $900,000 of tobacco ads that appeared last year in its wholly-owned Tennis magazine. Obviously, both the Post and Times have had unkind words for tobacco; but neither can claim to have provided the kind of unforgiving coverage that tobacco has earned with a product that every two years kills more Americans than have died in all the wars of this century. And that's just the daily press. For a sense of how cigarette revenues have shaped the attitudes of the magazine world, consider the views of George Gross, executive vice president of the Magazine Publishers of America. He recently went before Congress to warn that restrictions on cigarette advertising could lead to a surge in smoking, since "the prominent
health warnings now carried in all magazine tobacco advertising will not be seen by millions of readers." Now there's an original argument.
Meanwhile, a 1986 study by the University of Michigan School of Public Health found that no other category of magazines-fashion, politics, general-interest, and so forth-relies more heavily on tobacco ads than do sports magazines. On the average, tobacco provided 1 1.3 percent of the sports journals' income, down slightly from 14.0 in 1976-but up impressively from pre-ad ban days of 1966, when it was only 2.1 percent. Sports Illustrated, the industry giant, weighed in at 11.3 percent-or $27 million. The dangers of milk
What kinds of inhibitions might such revenues induce? It's certainly fair to say that Sports Illustrated, itself part of a larger Time, Inc. empire full of cigarette ads, hasn't brought an exceptionally skeptical view to the issue of tobacco and sports. "It's a fringe thing," says Peter Carry, the magazine's executive editor. In 1977, the magazine did find space for Chaws," a nine-page celebration of chewing tobacco by an array of baseball stars. Sample? "I'll stick a chaw in my mouth and everything seems to get a little brighter," said pitcher Rick Reuschel.
Meanwhile, one could suggest that Sports Illustrated has been less than zealous in publishing alternative points of view. Ask Greg Connolly, a Massachusetts dentist hired by Major League baseball to help athletes quit chewing tobacco. In 1986, Connolly says he contacted the magazine and offered to write a piece about the program. He said that two different editors, including baseball editor Steve Wulf, warned him that higher-ups might find a possible "conflict of interest" with advertisers, but Wulf told him to try it nonetheless. Connolly turned it in, but the piece never ran.
So what-maybe Connolly can't write. But that wasn't the explanation that Wulf gave Howard Wolinsky, a Chicago Sun-Times medical writer, when Wolinsky asked what happened. Wolinsky says Wulf told him, "based on common sense, magazines do not like to upset their advertisers by publishing stories that are negative on an advertised product." When I called Wulf he confirmed that he had warned Connolly about possible conflicts of interest, and he acknowledged the conversation with Wolinsky. He said he was speaking to Wolinsky about magazines in general, not Sports Illustrated, which he said "does not let its advertisers dictate its editorial content." His fears about the possible conflict of interest, he said, "turned out not to be the case. The sole reason it didn't run was for editorial purposes."
Judging from another Sports Illustrated article, the magazine seems to think that tobacco isn't just a "fringe" issue in sports but also in health. In 1983, the magazine ran a 10-page article deploring the sad state of "fitness" in America, explaining how poor diet and a lack of exercise contribute to heart disease and general ill health. The article doesn't exactly ignore tobacco. Cigarettes show up twice. First the magazine argues, "The problem is not only too little exercise-the culprits in the case of children include TV and, recently, video games-but too many cigarettes, too many calories and a diet far too rich in salt and saturated fats. . . ." Next, it advises "'lifestyle' changes, such as cutting out cigarettes.... Just as important is the need to engineer' more activity into daily life. Use stairs instead of elevators. Leave your car at the far end of the parking lot. (Emphasis added.) With the messy little business of cigarettes put behind, the magazine turned a tarter tongue toward a real social blight: sweetened water. The Los Angeles public pools were offering free admission to "to children producing wrappers from Kool-Aid packages," the authors said. "Of course, the appropriateness of such an association with Kool-Aid, a product not ordinarily thought of as promoting fitness, might be questioned." Imagine how heartless those Kool-Aid peddlers are! Of all the things to push on kids! The writers went on to document another crass exercise of corporate power, blasting the National Dairy Council for "disseminating educational material on nutrition that pointedly neglects to suggest that readers might want to restrict their intake of eggs, whole milk, butter." Why the dairy council even gave those milk pamphlets to kids! Rascals! Have they no shame? The same issue that emphasized the dangers of elevators and eggs more than Marlboros, Camels, or Winstons, happened to have ten pages of cigarette advertising. Among the ads was a two-page spread from the Tobacco Institute, which asked "Is cigarette advertising a major reason why kids smoke?" and answered, "No." When I asked Jeffy Kirshenbaum, the fitness article's co-author, how the ethics of that ad compared to the Dairy Council's plug for milk, he said, "I really don't think I want to discuss this any further." Interestingly, Sports Illustrated did run a very hardhitting article last year on beer's effect on sports, which shows the magazine hasn't just simply tuned out on moral issues. (See Monthly Journalism Award, November 1988.) Beer's involvement in sport, through sponsorship and advertising, led the magazine "to wonder just what kind of cultural hypocrisy is going on when Americans relentlessly insist on
immersing sport-our most wholesome, most admired, even (sometimes) most heroic institution-in a sea of intoxicating drink." S1 suggested that this was "cynical, ironic, immoral, hypocritical. . ." The magazine's beer-ad revenues in 1988 were $6.3 million-significant, but far short of tobacco's $35 million. And perhaps equally significant, beer companies don't feel as imperilled, and hence, as vindictive, as cigarette makers do. Carry, the executive editor and a former smoker, said that quitting was one of the hardest things he'd ever done. But as far as tobacco's involvement with sports, "I would say on the level of the world's evils, I would say it ranks pretty low." The 150 m.p.h. Marlboro While it would certainly help if Sports Illustrated saved its righteous indignation for Kools instead of Kool Aid, the tobacco companies have friends in even higher places-television. It was the broadcasters, remember, who did their level best to keep cigarettes commercials on the air. These days, televised tennis and auto-racing doesn't sell cigarette ads but does sell equally lucrative car ads and truck ads and beer ads instead. The small group of network executives who control the nation's sports programming have unique power where tobacco and athletics are concerned. If the heads of CBS, ABC, and NBC simply turned on the TV, saw the whirl of Marlboro cars, flags, and banners, and said, "Hey, that's a cigarette ad-don't show it," the game would be over. Without the magnifying effects of broadcast coverage, tobacco's 20- year outbreak of sports fever would meet its antibiotic. (To protect themselves from losing a competitive advantage to some less scrupulous, upstart station, the networks could seek a ruling from the FCC, pointing out tobacco's circumvention of the law. And, of course, the FCC needn't be shy; it could always instigate an investigation itself.) A few sports" might go under, at least in their present forms. Then again, if the Winston Cup can't exist without Winston, then isn't it more cigarette ad than sport, after all? The media employees who wait for the executives to move are likely to wait a long time. To push the process along, a little unity would help. Just as baseball players, acting together, could bring the necessary pressure to bear on ballparks, writers and producers can put pressures on the media corporations. Acting alone, the reporter who condemns cigarette ads may get branded an "activist" and sent to write obits. Joining together, the top 50 reporters at the Times or the Post or ABC could exercise real pres-
sure-particularly if they said they were willing to take a cut in pay equal, on a percentage basis, to the loss in revenue, as long as the executives and shareholders did the same.
Judging from my recent discussions with sports broadcasters, however, the dangers of such an outbreak of moral zeal seem slight. It's certainly not expected at CBS, where CEO Larry Tisch happens to wear a second hat as chairman of the board of Loew's, owners of Lorillard Tobacco, makers of Kents, Newports, and Trues. The new anti-tobacco policy isn't on the horizon at ESPN either, where RJR/Nabisco owns 20 percent.
At ABC, Lydia Stephans, the programmer with a clear-eyed view of tobacco's clever loophole, argued that there's little the networks can do. If they didn't broadcast sporting events with cigarette ads, she said, there wouldn't be any left to broadcast-which is sort of the point. "I'm basically neutral," she said.
The fervor at NBC wasn't much greater. I asked Doug Kelly, an NBC spokesman, how the network deals with the tobacco ads that line scoreboards and racetrack infields. He called back a few days later to explain that "we only show the part that shows the scoreboard." Kelly did concede that it was hard to get a tight shot of the Indy 500, which NBC also broadcasts, at least one that would crop the Marlboro sign off the racecar's hood. When I asked if that all those 150 m.p.h. cigarette signs didn't violate at least the spirit of the ad ban, Kelly's tone became distinctly less friendly. "I'm not going to comment on that," he said.
"Is that Kelly?" I asked in parting.
"No, it's s-p-o-k-e-s-m-a-n," he said. "I prefer to be known as an NBC spokesman. It's not our policy to identify our spokesmen here."
It's too bad that Pete Axthelm doesn't have a spokesman. It's not that he's been any more complicit in the promotion of cigarettes and sports than most other big-name sports writers. He hasn't. But the more loudly he defended the marriage of the two, the more embarrassing it became to listen, all the more so because he seemed like a terrifically nice guy.
This, remember, is a man who's been at the top of the profession that should be chasing cigarettes from sports:
"Obviously, I can be criticized since we all make our outrageous salaries as a result of tobacco and beer advertising, so I know I'm setting myself up," he began. "I have to keep coming back to the thing with our Constitution-free rights, free markets, whatever."
And if kids look to athletes as role models? Well, that's their fault, Axthelm said. "What we really should be striving for is not to have athletes conform
to more rules, but to have our kids realize that athletes are not role models," he said. (Philip Morris, no doubt, would be happy to sponsor another educational program, to help kids kick the hero-worship habit.) Virginia Slims? "What I recall is the general slogan, You've come a long way, baby,' as being a good thing for women," he said. "I'm a feminist."
Q: "Isn't one of the areas in which women are achieving parity lung cancer?"
A: "I don't want to comment on that." By the end of the conversation, Axthelm began to sound concerned. Perhaps, finally, he was as unconvinced by his own defense of the cigarette companies as I was. While Bobby Brown dealt with his lack of good answers by slamming down the phone, and Doug Kelly dealt with it by seeking anonymity, at least Axthelm stayed on the line. But the more he talked, the more his answers turned back against him: "I just don't want to be set up as an idiot," he said. "Don't set me up after a lung cancer paragraph and say, Virginia Slims has done a lot for women."' Sixty pack-years There's an odd sign on the door- to one of the cancer wards at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. It lets vis- itors know that the "smoking lounge is located on 6 center." Not long ago, Dr. Paul Sperduto, an oncologist at the National Cancer Institute, escorted me onto the NCI ward and pulled the medical chart of a patient, who, four years ago, coughing, had gone to see his doctor "Metastatic small cell lung cancer to the left neck, mediastinum, right hilum, and liver," Dr. Sperduto said. "That's definitely not curable. " But the mere fact of the patient's presence at such a sophisticated facility indicated he'd been luckier than most. If he hadn't been chosen for a government study, he probably wouldn't have been there. His chart tagged him as lucky, too. Under sophisticated "cancer management," his disease had disappeared twice, adding a few years to his life.
The first bout of management began in 1985 with the onset of chemotherapy, monthly for eight consecutive months-four or five days o chemicals followed by a week or so of vomiting and exhaustion; rest and repeat. It seemed to work. By July 1986, a CT scan could no longer find the lump in his chest. Cancer management then called for a round of brain radiation, since the disease is known to sojourn there. By December 1987, it was back, and four more months of chemotherapy began, this ti e with different chemicals. Again the cancerfled. "That's great," Dr. Sperduto said. "Relatively speaking. " Six months later, in September, 1988, it returned. This time, the
cancer managers tried the experimental therapy called In Vitro Best Regimen. They sent a piece of the patient's lung into the lab, grew his disease in petri dishes, and sprinkled them with competing chemicals, to see which seemed to work best. Cytoxan won. And into his veins it went, over the course of five monthly cycles. It was now January, 1989, and nothing was happening. The cancer held firm. Another experiment began-a monoclonal antibody, the discovery of which had earned a researcher a Nobel Prize. That didn't work either. The cancer now appeared throughout his chest and liver. In March, a tumor in the throat wouldn't let him swallow. The cancer managers radiated it down. In April, the pain medicine was locking his bowels. The physicians reduced his dosage-good for the bowels, bad for the pain. Next came an electolyte imbalance, which brings more vomiting and the possibility of seizures. The chemotherapy, meanwhile, had caused a "peripheral neuropathy," the sensation of burning in the patient's arms and legs. When I met him in July, the man with the lucky chart, a former auto mechanic now 58 years old, was back for more treatment.
Cancer doctors speak not in years but in packyears, and this man's number was 60: one-and-ahalf packs of L c Strikes a day, times forty years, beginning at age 15. "My father smoked, both my brothers smoked," he said. "At that age, it makes you feel like you're a big man . . . . Of course, my daughters have always been after me to stop. They smoke now, too. Now I'm trying to get them to stop. The oldest one sent away for that Cigarrest, or whatever you call it. But her husband smokes too. She said it didn't work. "
It was quiet in his room. He spoke in a monotone, with no peaks of anger or dips of despair, He wasn't mad, he said-mot at Lucky Strikes, not at the disease, not at the clumps of hair that keep falling out all over the bed and all over the pillow." He'd had a full life, he said, and Dr. Sperduto nodded in support: his patient had been married for 33 years, with three daughters, and four grandchildren. By the time we said goodbye, all three of us knew, he'd be dead by Christmas.
Driving out of the hospital, we passed an advertisement on the side of a city bus. It showed an athletic young woman, having into a pool. Salem," it said. "The Refreshest."
THE WORST CITY GOVERNMENT No tour of the foibles of city governments would be complete without a visit to Philadelphia, where budget crises have become a way of life. The first sign that the local budget was heading for trouble was when Mayor Wilson Goode, running for reelection in 1987, announced that city finances were fine and that the budget would be balanced with no tax increases. Nobody believed that, but Goode won reelection anyway and discovered almost immediately that the budget was ailing. According to him, the earlier forecast had been optimistic." City Council sized up the looming budget crisis and reacted by throwing itself a 100,000, invitation-only inaugural bash, complete with flowers, plaques, a mariachi band, and a $25,000 videotape of the ceremonies, which has yet to be shown publicly. The cost of the videotape alone is roughly what a working-class Philly family with an income of $20,000 a year will pay in total taxes over the next decade. After newspaper reports of the expenses, Council President Joe Coleman felt badly enough that he repaid the $1,985 liquor bill. But feeling slighted that only mayors get their portraits hung, Coleman authorized $23,000 for paintings of five council presidents, himself included. Never mind that one of those pictured, George X. Schwartz, went to federal prison in 1985 for conspiring to extort a $30,000 payoff in the Abscam scandal. in addition to the expense, the quality of the work has been questioned. One horrified critic's reaction: "Call the art police." Deficits are nothing new to the
council's leading budget expert, John F. Street. This budget whiz is currently in federal bankruptcy court staving off creditors demanding tens of thousands of dollars. Among the debts is an unpaid city gas bill of $5,600. Whoops-Street is a former member of the Gas Commission. Goode too has failed to inspire confidence. The mayor insisted on $70 million in higher taxes for the fiscal year that began July 1, 1989, and scheduled a series of town meetings to sell his idea. When residents howled their opposition, Goode appointed a task force, which concluded that before raising taxes, "the [cityl government must do a better job of demonstrating to Philadelphians that they are getting real value for their tax dollars." One reason for this lack of faith is the hole in the ground at 13th and Filbert Streets, a block from city hall. Instead of the modern Criminal Justice Center that had been planned for the location, the only thing there is a debris-filled chasm. You could call it Rubble Without a Cause, except that Goode's critics pin it on the mayor. City law requires that 15 percent of city contracts go to minority-owned firms, but Goode decided to more than double that to 35 percent for work on the center. When the first contractor turned out to have legal and financial troubles, Goode rebid the work at 30 percent. Bids came in so high that he then cancelled the project, into which the city had already poured $30 million.
Then there's Philadelphia's million dollar computer system that never was. It was supposed to track information on a roll, pensions,
and personnel, but by January 1987, a consultant pronounced the project "brain dead." Not until last September did city officials finally, and quietly, pull the plug. Total cost to taxpayers for the system that never worked: between $4 million and $6 million, depending on who's counting; that's more than half the money the city spent on AIDS this year. In December 1986, auditors for the city noticed that more than 550 business people who owed $7.8 million in city taxes were nonetheless getting some whopping tax breaks under programs designed to foster development, construction, and repairs. The audit's recommendation: Don't do that. Council agreed and passed a bill, signed by Goode in June 1987, in effect barring tax breaks for tax cheats. But for 16 months the tax breaks continued, and, with few exceptions, none of those back taxes rolled in. Speaking of tax breaks, buyers of condominiums in a 33-story building overlooking upscale Rittenhouse Square received what could total $2.4 million in tax breaks thanks to Mayor Goode. When the project was delayed, Goode gave the developer an assist by declaring the luxury apartment building "deteriorated property," thus giving condo buyers tax breaks of between $30,000 and $130,000, Meanwhile the city Commerce Department studied such writeoffs and concluded that the city is wasting perhaps $50 million a year enticing businesses that would come to Philadelphia anyway.
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|Title Annotation:||cigarette endorsement|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1989|
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