Antismoking activists have taken their crusade against the tobacco industry to the streets. In Canada, the United States and Australia, otherwise law-abiding citizens— including doctors—are spray-painting cigarette billboard ads. The Torontobased Non-Smokers’ Rights Association (NSRA) has recorded at least 10 such incidents. Said Robert Allan, vice-president of finance and public affairs for Rothmans of Pall Mall Canada, Ltd.: “It is breaking the laws of the land, and people, if caught, should be appropriately punished.” But in Seattle, Wash., a judge recently dropped a charge of destruction of public property against Dr. Michael Lippman. The 35-year-old family physician spraypainted a billboard last December, making it read, “Camel Filters—It’s a whole new world of cancer.” And in Australia an organization named BUGA UP (Billboard Utilizing Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions) has been “refacing” tobacco billboards since 1979.
The painters’ ultimate goal is to completely eliminate cigarette advertising, although the current campaigns are directed against lifestyle ads geared to the youth market. Said Lippman: “Children are very susceptible to the subliminal effects of advertising.” And NSRA lawyer David Sweanor says some of the Toronto spray-painting may be the work of physicians. Said Sweanor: “Many young doctors and medical students think it is wrong to be promoting a product that Health and Welfare Canada says is directly responsible for the death of more than 30,000 Canadians each year.”
In Canada the tobacco industry agreed to voluntary self-regulation in 1972. At the time, the industry promised to display health warnings on its packaging, not advertise on radio and television and ban cigarette advertising within 200 m of the perimeter of primary and secondary schools. Still, a 1985 Gallup poll found that only 22.4 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 12 and 29 knew that smoking can lead to lung cancer. The spray-painters may win some skirmishes but, declared Sweanor, “The tobacco industry is winning the war over smoking.”
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