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The Smoker's Club, Inc.

THE FOLLOWING IS A LETTER I SENT TO MY REPRESENTATIVE IN THE STATE HOUSE OF DELEGATES AND STATE SENATOR REGARDING THE ANTI-SMOKING BILLBOARDS THAT HAVE BEEN POSTED IN CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN MARYLAND -- AND PROBABLY ELSEWHERE IN THE STATE, AS WELL. THE PHOTOS MENTIONED IN THE TEXT WERE INCLUDED AS GRAPHICS IN THE LETTER ITSELF.


August 30, 1999

Delegate Nancy K. Kopp
Lowe House Office Building, Room 221
84 College Ave.
Annapolis, MD 21401-1991

Dear Delegate Kopp,

I am writing to you because of your position with the Spending and Affordability Committee, because you are represent me in the Maryland state legislature, and because there is a matter of concern to me and others in this area which falls within your area of expertise and authority.

Essentially, it is a matter of public disclosure regarding a series of billboards which have been placed along state highways in several, if not all, Maryland counties. I have scanned into this letter photographs of two different versions. There is at least one more.

The first billboard, which is shown at the right, shows a very young girl who certainly appears far younger than 12 years of age, the age at which the billboard says she smoked her first cigarette. As you can see from the photo, it is sponsored by the State of Maryland and it states: "It's time we made smoking history."

The second billboard, at left, announces that "3,000 kids start smoking every day." Again, the slogan about making smoking "history" appears right above the acknowledgment that the ad is sponsored by the State of Maryland. Yet another billboard with the same theme proclaims that a specific numbers of deaths over a particular period of time are caused by smoking.

I am interested in knowing how the decision was made to place the billboards in the locations they occupy. Was this the result of a particular legislative act that set aside funds for this purpose, or did the money come from some discretionary budget used by officials or committees or bureaus that are part of state government? Who was responsible for selecting the ads used?

I believe also that the public is entitled to know the cost of these billboards, including their development and production, fees paid to ad agencies, acquisition and rental of billboard space, and all costs associated with their placement and maintenance. Most importantly, I think people have a right to know exactly what each billboard costs, how many of them have been placed in the state, and how much more will be spent in the future for the billboard campaign?

Further, I believe that, as a taxpayer in the State of Maryland (contributing considerable sums of money both in the form of income tax and property tax, not to mention state sales taxes, car tags, etc.), I have a right to know the source of the "factual" information appearing in the ads. For instance, how is it determined that 3,000 "kids" start smoking every day? What is meant by "kids" very young children whose parents should be capable and responsible for seeing that they don't experiment with cigarettes, or older teens who may "start" smoking one cigarette with a group of friends, but never go on to smoke another? Does the term "kids" include college-age youth who are legally old enough to decide for themselves whether they wish to smoke? Does "start smoking" imply a continuous engagement in the practice, or just a single incident of "let me try one of those Newports you got"? Can a "kid" be counted more than once if, for instance, he or she tries a cigarette just once this summer, and then gives it another go at a party next April or May? Just how is it known that there are 3,000 such events in a day?

Similarly, I am curious about how smoke-related deaths are calculated. It is my understanding that cigarette smoking may contribute to several illness that may be fatal, including, most importantly, diseases of the lungs and heart. But it is also pretty much acknowledged that a number of other factors contribute, as well. For instance, a person with high blood pressure and blood cholesterol, who happens to be extremely overweight, doesn't exercise, and smokes even moderately, may die of a heart attack, but probably would have done so absent any single one of those several factors. My own mother died of lung cancer in 1986, and she is one of those rare people who never even once tried a cigarette (her older sister, a chain smoker, lived to be 93). I guess my question is how many cigarettes a person has to smoke in a lifetime for that person's death to be called "smoke-related."

Finally, the use of the very young child's picture in the first billboard, combined with the slogan about making smoking history, at least implies that the agenda behind the billboards is to conduct a scare campaign with the goal of enacting policies as restrictive as possible something for which I doubt most residents of "The Free State" have much enthusiasm.

In conclusion, I would very much appreciate having from you a report on the source and cost of the billboard campaign, the number of billboards sponsored and the planned future of the billboard project, as well as any and all background information or reports that would tell me how the statistical information was gathered and how the billboard designs were selected.

Sincerely,
Elizabeth Liagin