Basically, our society has demonized tobacco companies and the people who use their products.
We have our reasons.
We know regular use of tobacco will kill perhaps 400,000 Americans this year and cause serious illnesses for thousands more.
We know our living rooms smell when people who smoke light up.
So, we’ve pushed those who smoke or chew out of our offices and homes, and bad-mouth the tobacco people and the tobacco companies with vigor.
This unending barrage has led many states, including Washington and Idaho, to take extraordinary steps to banish what is still, like it or not, a legal product manufactured by variety of legal enterprises.
Washington state, for example, has declared all public office buildings to be smoke-free zones.
Idaho’s new anti-smoking law can put kids under 18 in jail for 6 months if they are caught smoking or with a pinch of chew between cheek and gum.
For puffing marijuana in Idaho, it’s only three months in jail.
That’s just the way it is.
Tobacco has joined the list of Truly Bad Things We Hate.
(Also on the list: big-spending liberals, accordion music at the prom and airline food containers that won’t open without the knife inside.)
Having watched my own grandfather struggle to breathe with an oxygen mask and finally die of emphysema after a lifetime of smoking Lucky Strikes, I offer few kinds words about smoking.
Still, I am troubled by the rush to turn smokers and tobacco companies into devils.
Hey, my mom smokes and I love her.
In the name of Truly Bad Things We Hate must I make her spend Thanksgiving on the back porch with her ashtray?
And this week I was reminded again of the limits of putting all of a person or an industry into a pigeonhole.
The U.S. Tobacco Company visited Spokane this week. The company outlined its plan to donate $100,000 or more to Washington state firefighters.
The $100,000 will come out of the profits USTC makes from the sale of Skoal and Copenhagen chewing tobacco.
Or, if you want the politically-correct name for chewing tobacco, company spokesman Patrick Kinney suggests, “moist oral snuff.”
The sale of moist oral snuff tops $1 billion a year in this country. That’s a lot of cowboys in need of a place to spit.
The pledge of $100,000 to firefighter training in the state of Washington isn’t something to spit at.
“We keep losing more and more tax dollars for training and supporting firefighters,” explained Pat Humphries, chief of the Spokane Valley Fire Department. “So this is great.”
The money from the tobacco company will be used to train fire departments in how best to combat wildland fires. In 1994, these rural fires consumed 187,000 acres in central Washington and cost $21 million to contain.
“Frankly, there is need for this kind of training and it will be valuable to the state,” said Fred Allinson, chairman of Washington’s National Volunteer Fire Council.
“We used to do free training of this type at a site in North Bend. But the money for that has gone away even as more people are moving out into the woods and building houses. It would take us years and years of bake sales and bingo to accomplish what this money will do,” he said.
No firefighters association or fire department was asked to endorse the use of chewing tobacco. No department will advertise Skoal or Copenhagen.
U.S. Tobacco spokesman Kinney says the company doesn’t even think the sale of Skoal and Copenhagen will rise as a result of its pledge to send a portion of all profits to Washington firefighters until Dec. 15.
But the purpose of this “cause related marketing” is clear: make us think twice about the big, bad tobacco companies.
“The bottom line is that we want to help firefighters and help our loyal customers feel good about the company,” said UST’s Kinney. “We think we’re a company with a heart and a soul.”
That’s what we don’t want to acknowledge.
In politics, or religion, or in thinking of Truly Bad Things We Hate, society has forgotten that even a bad cat has a purr.
Jerry Welsh, the founder of the whole concept of “cause related marketing,” came to Spokane with U.S. Tobacco and raised the idea that rather than castigating U.S. Tobacco for its $100,000 help to firefighters, society should encourage other tobacco companies to follow the lead.
Welsh was the guy who convinced American Express to donate money from every customer transaction to fix up the Statute of Liberty.
Now running his own marketing company, Welsh offered this thought.
“If every tobacco company donated at the rate UST has done, that would mean $200 million to $300 million a year would be going into the coffers of worthy causes,” he said. “Couldn’t our country use that right now?”
Just a reminder, perhaps, that not all hats are black or white.
, DataTimes MEMO: Chris Peck is the Editor of The Spokesman-Review. His column appears each Sunday on Perspective.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.