BOOKS & THE CULTURE unions in Indonesia are routinely met with military crackdowns, keeping labor costs attractively low for multi-nationals. Mobil’s verdict? “The future is a bright one for this archipelago nation…a powerhouse in the Pacific.” One of the most disturbing PR campaigns exposed in the book is suggested by its title. Disposing of tons of waste accumulated in sewage treatment plants is an obvious priority for the Environmental Protection Agency, leading the agency to downplay the presence in the sludge of PCBs, chlorinated pesticides, and heavy metals such as lead and cadmium. To improve the public image of sewage sludge, a waste product with little appeal to the public, something called the “Biosolids Public Acceptance Campaign” was orga:nized by the Federation of Sewage Works Associations which, after several name changes itself, became the more appealing “Water Environment Federation.” This campaign took off in tandem with the EPA’s bid to “educate” the public about the safety of sludge and to entice farmers to buy “biosolid fertilizer P”one of the profit-making products that came out of the EPA’s “beneficial research” program. Yet Stanford Tackett, a chemist and expert on lead contamination, warned that “97 to 99 percent [of sludge] is contaminated waste that should not be spread to where people live….The claims now being made for ‘sludge safety’ sound eerily like the earlier claims that ‘DDT is perfectly safe’ and asbestos is a miracle fiber that poses no danger at all.” The authors argue that solutions to the grave problems they outline in their book lie in the rejection of passive spectator politics and a return to grassroots activism. We can’t count on mainstream news outlets to provide us with the unvarnished truth of what is being perpetrated by big money: video and radio news releases and such “wire services” as “PR News Wire” are ubiquitous on the media landscape, spinning their sales pitches into even the most seemingly innocuous stories. But independent voices, like this publication and PR Watch, do still exist, and the body politic ain’t dead yet. As Toxic Sludge Is Good For You makes clear, there are feisty activists, like Jim Bynum of Laredo \(director of to corporate power throughout the country. Our hopes for the future lie in their exam SMOKE SCREEN: The Truth Behind the Tobacco Industry Cover-up. By Philip J. Hilts. Addison-Wesley. 253 pages. $22.00. he tobacco industry has always enjoyed a special niche in America. Nurtured ‘by lucrative agricultural subsidies, promoted by brilliant advertising campaigns and generally protected by a government reluctant to control it, the industry has flourished like few others in our history. It is only recently, under a barrage of law suits and insider disclosures, that the industry at last seems on the edge of losing its protected position. There are several new books about the subject, including this one by New York Times reporter Philip J. Hilts. Smoke Screen is not a history of the tobacco industry in America per se, although you are reminded that in the last century or so it has become very rich and enormously powerful. Rather, it is the story of one chilling aspect of the last fifty years: the ongoing effort by the industry, since the end of World War II, to keep current smokers addicted to smoking and at the same time, continue to attract new ones to the habit. That means inventing new cigarettes, new combinations of tar and nicotine, and new advertising campaigns. And more recently it has meant to defeatat all costsany legislation to control the industry, or any legal suits against it. The owners of the tobacco industry learned early on that their products were unhealthy, if not lethal. The industry itself conducted elaborate scientific research, often in secret and in foreign locations, that not only revealed tobacco’s hidden health dangers but its addictive qualities as well. Yet an unofficial consortium of tobacco giantsamong them Brown and Williamson, R. J. Reynolds, and the American Tobacco Companyuntil just a few months ago maintained an odd sort of solidarity against any charges of health danger, nicotine addiction, or product liability. Hilts makes plain that this is a history replete with ironies. The cigarette of the pastreal tobacco, golden and sunwarmed, julienned and wrapped in white paperhasn’t existed since the 1950s. Today’s cigarettes are made from a stew of leftover stems, scraps, some fresh tobacco and reconstituted “dark juices.” Cigarette manufacturers learned early on how to eliminate tar, but only at the expense of lessening nicotinethe key element in tobacco addiction. The same manufacturers have known for almost forty years how to make safer cigarettes but found themselves caught in a public-relations “catch-22”: to produce a safer cigarette, market and sell it, meant admitting that ordinary cigarettes were in fact unsafe. Faced with that dilemma, and therefore with the prospect of admitting what they had known all along, tobacco companies simply dropped the matter and went on denying any causality between smoking and cancer, smoking and lung disease, and so forth. One of the more intriguing subsets to the story is the battle over nicotine. Tobacco inherently contains nicotine, and some varieties of tobacco contain higher levels than others. Reducing tar, manipulating taste, adding filterseach varies the amount and type of nicotine that hits the smoker’s system. But nicotine is also elemental, first, in creating the smoker’s need to smoke, and secondly, in feeding and sustaining it. ple, not in the mindless mantras of con Ben Terrall is a freelance writer living in sumerism that Stauber and Rampton San Francisco. skewer so effectively. moke Gets in Your Eyes The Story of Tobacco’s Poisonous Hypocrisy BY JAMES W. KUNETKA 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 30, 1996
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