With spots on network television and a flashy web site reporting 200,000 hits monthly, TheTruth.com is here to "alert [us about] the lies and hidden practices of the cigarette companies." Their painstaking undercover work has revealed the unbelievable: tobacco is dangerous and addictive.
Warn your children, parents, and friends! After all, those dastardly tobacco companies have been engaged in a cover-up for centuries. It all started during the 1600s when King James I declared tobacco "loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, ... the black stinking fume thereof nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless." The Marlboro man pushed King James down that bottomless pit right then and there so he wouldn't be able to disseminate the truth any longer.
Paid for by the American Legacy Foundation (ALF), TheTruth.com was made possible from the generous support of--you guessed it--the tobacco companies. From 1999-2003, ALF will receive $250 million annually under the tobacco settlement. And curiously, the message found on the ALF web site is quite different from the one being peddled to teens at TheTruth.com. On the latter, they claim a ban on smoking is not their goal, writing, "We totally respect people's freedom of choice ... [and] would never try telling anyone else what to do or not to do." The ALF site, however, employs the slogan "fighting for a tobacco free future." Unless they would have us believe smokers will voluntarily kick the habit once being told for the millionth time that it's unhealthy, the ALF, in fact, does long for a legislative ban.
TheTruth.com prominently features rhetoric like "Big Tobacco" in their advertisements, hoping to kindle anti-corporate sentiment among teenagers who will then unite in opposition to smoking. Several of their print ads even encourage readers to rip advertisements for tobacco products from the pages of magazines. (Let's hope they limit themselves to their own publications!) They also encourage anti-tobacco protests on college campuses, comparing the Tobacco Conspiracy to South Africa's apartheid.
A special April Fools commercial features a nameless "Tobacco CEO" announcing, "Effective immediately, [the tobacco companies] are issuing a cigarette recall. Every single cigarette in America is being pulled off the shelf and will remain off until we can, with a clear conscience, offer the American public a cigarette that poses no health risk."
There are two underlying implications: first, cigarettes are like faulty toys or tires, which cause harm, and second, tobacco companies strive to kill their customers. To the contrary, however, consumers are fully aware of the dangers associated with smoking and assume the risk of their actions. Further, one might even venture to guess that tobacco companies would pay zillions for a healthy cigarette. After all, living smokers generally spend more money.
To create the illusion of a racist conspiracy perpetrated by "Big Tobacco," TheTruth.com reports in many of their commercials, "Tobacco gives black males 50% more lung cancer than white males." Obviously, tobacco itself hasn't been engineered to increase the health risk for blacks; therefore, the sentence would more accurately read, "Black males are 50% more likely than white males to contract lung cancer from tobacco." But alas, the focus of the sentence would then be removed from their object of contempt, and placed on the very people who choose to smoke.
"Big Tobacco" is even responsible for Clinton's impeachment, according to TheTruth.com. An older version of their web site encouraged teenagers to read an article from the Nation which alleges that the tobacco companies, upset with Clinton proposals to raise cigarette taxes, "g[o]t their lawyer, Ken Starr, named to the Independent Counsel position, to get Clinton impeached."
One might presume TheTruth.com also supposes Janet Reno was the secret tobacco ringleader behind Clinton's legal troubles: remember, she did appoint Ken Starr. And it wasn't Clinton who lied under oath and obstructed justice, it was just Joe Camel dressed up in a Clinton costume.
Rest assured, TheTruth.com can afford Shaggy and Scooby Doo to uncover this ubiquitous plot of "Big Tobacco," so there is hope yet that one day we'll get to the bottom of this travesty. In the mean time, however, let us remember the fine words of French playwright Jean Baptiste Moliere: "Tobacco is the passion of all proper people, and he who lives without tobacco has nothing to live for."
Jaime Sneider is a Columbia College senior majoring in history.