In his first job out of college,
Bill Novelli, C'63, ASC'64, drove around upstate New York in a
station wagon full of laundry detergent -- a fading brand called Rinso.
Dressed in a salesman suit with soap powder collecting in his cuffs, he
was forced to answer to the name of the product he peddled. "Hey
Rinso! Come over here!" supermarket managers would shout to him across
their aisles. And he would go to them with his wares. "That,"
he laughs, "is how I learned about life." More than 30 years
later, Novelli is using his well-honed sales, marketing, and communication
skills not to promote a commercial product but to try to keep it
out of the hands of its youngest consumers. That enduring product -- the
target of attempted legislation, numerous lawsuits, and intense negotiations
over the last three years -- is tobacco.
As president of the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign
for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), Novelli presents the fight to reduce youth
smoking in America today as no less than a moral battle with clear-cut
villains winding their tentacles throughout American culture. The "evidence"
is on display at his organization's offices, where a colorful mural of
a kid enchained by the smoking habit greets visitors coming off the elevator
and a wall in one conference room is covered with an enticing array of
tobacco merchandise. The tobacco industry, he charges, has "deliberately
used scientific knowledge to seduce children into beginning to smoke,
and then to continue to do so into adulthood through addiction,"
leading to more than 400,000 deaths a year. "This is an enormously
wealthy industry," adds Novelli, "that protects its interest
through effective lobbying and political influence, through aggressive
legal actions, with beguiling public-relations programs, and with over
five billion dollars a year in marketing spending. I think there is no
other way to say it. This is an immoral industry."
|Last spring Novelli sent a message to congress
with Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski, the Campaign's national
youth advocate of the year.
public-health stakes are enormous, says Novelli, a former pipe smoker
who helped found CTFK in 1995. Youth smoking has reached a 19-year high,
according to statistics used by his organization. "Smoking among
kids is increasing among boys and girls, of all races and ethnicities,
and we've now reached the point where 3,300 kids become regular smokers
every day of the week," he says. "That's over 1,200,000 new
kids smokers a year." And according to the Campaign, nearly 90 percent
of adult smokers began their habit by age 18.
Working with an $11 million budget, CTFK bases its campaign
on a three-part action plan to create "a social, political, legal,
media, economic, and ethical environment conducive to reducing tobacco
use and exposure among kids"; fight for public policies that help
reduce youth smoking; and widen and strengthen the support base for its
The Campaign and its allies -- groups as diverse as
the American Medical Association, the American Federation of Teachers,
and the Hispanic Radio Network -- have experienced mixed success during
the past seven months of the tobacco war. In November, attorneys general
for eight states reached a multi-billion dollar settlement of their Medicaid
lawsuits against tobacco companies. The companies have to pay $206 billion
to 46 states and Washington, D.C., over the next 25 years and fund a national
foundation to aim counteradvertising at teen smokers. In return, the states
have agreed not to sue them. The settlement also bans cartoon characters
from cigarette ads, outdoor billboards, and promotional gifts.
But the terms have disappointed many public-health advocates,
and an editorial in The New York Times dismissed them as "fig
leaves for a plan that would have very little impact on tobacco use."
Novelli says the new settlement "has some good things in it in terms
of tobacco-control measures, [but] even there it's not the whole egg."
Unlike an earlier settlement, which needed congressional
support, this new agreement does not hold tobacco companies accountable
for slashing teen smoking by a certain deadline, nor does it allow for
federal nicotine regulation. A tobacco bill proposed by U.S. Senator John
McCain, which also would have levied a $1.10-per-pack tax on cigarettes
and placed further restrictions on tobacco ads, was scuttled in the U.S.
Senate last June after an industry- sponsored media blitz.
Other battles have been waged recently: A Circuit Court
of Appeals overturned the FDA's jurisdiction over tobacco -- a case that
will be appealed to a higher court. A hotly-debated California ballot
measure narrowly passed in November, raising the state tax on cigarettes
by 50 cents a pack. And President Clinton vowed to push the new Congress
to consider bipartisan tobacco-control legislation that would build upon
the states' settlement. With each victory and defeat recorded on its information-rich
Web site , Novelli and the Campaign doggedly continue building coalitions,
creating surveys, and otherwise keeping tobacco-control in the public
eye. "We've got to change the way that tobacco is seen in America,"
January/February Contents | Gazette
Copyright 1999 The Pennsylvania
Gazette Last modified 1/5/99