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Tobacco's tenacity

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THE tenacity of the tobacco industry is amazing, as it continues to try to justify the promotion of a practice that most Americans would rather let lapse. But a shrinking percentage of the American public is buying the tobacco industry's specious arguments. Two-thirds of Americans are already nonsmokers, a percentage that has slowly risen for 21 years. Many current smokers would like to quit and join them; they find giving up smoking difficult, an effort made no easier by the continuing promotional campaign by tobacco interests.

A new report finds that American cigarette companies spend $2.7 billion a year advertising their dubious products. According to articles in the report, carried in the New York State Journal of Medicine, cigarettemakers are targeting women by advertising in women's magazines and blacks by promoting brands especially for them.

By sponsoring athletic events, manufacturers try to link cigarettes and athletic success; by financing musical and cultural events they seek to make smoking seem chic, despite incontrovertible evidence that it is anything but. It is the impressionable young who are most vulnerable to smoking's blandishments.

No wonder Americans' opinions of the tobacco industry are worsening. In 1981, 55 percent of Americans surveyed by the Roper Organization had a not-too-favorable or an unfavorable opinion of it; in 1982, 57 percent held those negative views; by 1983, 72 percent did.

Trying to change this opinion is surely one element that motivates the tobacco industry to continue its vigorous advertising and promotion campaigns. Another is the substantial headway antismoking efforts are making, as a smaller percentage of Americans decides to smoke.

Yet a third element may well be the increasing rights that nonsmokers are winning to escape the annoyance of others' smoke. At least 29 cities restrict smoking at work. Five states offer some similar protection to nonsmokers. And 1 in 5 private American employers has a separate work area for nonsmokers, or bans smoking entirely.

Much remains to be done. In a view that may be more truth than satire, the editor of the new report noted that ``the success of animal rights and wildlife organizations in mobilizing sympathy for the plight of various animals has been far greater than 30 years' worth of publicity about the adverse effects of smoking in human beings. . . . Perhaps the entire antismoking campaign should be turned over to Greenpeace.''

That's ridiculous, of course. But so is smoking. In time, perhaps even the tobacco industry will recognize the ridiculousness, not to mention nefariousness, of promoting it. ----30--{et


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