Koop denounces tobacco companies

by Andrew Allport | 5/21/98 5:00am

Dr. C. Everett Koop '37 called yesterday's defeat of an amendment that would hold tobacco companies liable for the health problems caused by smoking "a sellout to the most horrible crooks in the world."

Speaking to 150 graduates, undergraduates, members of the medical community, local political figures and residents of the Hanover area, Koop sadly announced that "my generation has failed" in the fight against the tobacco companies."

"The people in this room are the ones who will make a change," he said.

Koop's speech was part of an anti-tobacco dinner last night in Collis Common Ground, the very space where Koop had eaten all of his meals as an undergrad.

Koop related a favorite pastime of his while at the dinner table as a student: shooting bits of butter at the ceiling, where they stuck until the first thawing of spring.

Koop blamed the current Congress, whom he accused of siding with tobacco lobbyists, and the White House, which he deemed "a bunch of wimps," for buckling under tobacco companies' pressure.

The tireless anti-tobacco crusader was visibly dismayed at the passage of yesterday's bill, which raises the price of a package of cigarettes by $1.10, but still "is only a first step forward."

If the bill had raised the price by forty more cents, Koop said, 900,000 more children would not start smoking. He quoted statistics from similar price increases in the United Kingdom and Canada and showed the drastic decrease in underage smoking that resulted.

Dr. Jim Sargent, an associate professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School, spoke on the advertising tactics of R J. Reynolds and Co. He quoted the collective amount of advertising money spent by the tobacco industry every year at a figure over $5 billion.

"The entire [National Institute of Health] budget is only $12 billion a year," Sargent said.

Sargent said that after being exposed, many times very subtly, to cigarette and "smokeless" tobacco ads, children come to associate smoking with glamour, individuality and rebelliousness.

Even movies, which have supposedly stopped intentionally advertising, or "placing" cigarettes in films, sometimes tend to influence children's opinions, he said.

In a recent survey of Vermont and New Hampshire schools, Sargent said that middle-schoolers who have begun experimenting with tobacco listed their favorite actor as Bruce Willis, best known for his squinting, nicotine-driven John McClane from "Die Hard," while non-smokers named Robin Williams as their screen hero.

Vermont Representative Ann Siebert also addressed the crowd on the political aspect of the campaign against tobacco, which involved lobbyist techniques -- ranging from promotional calendars to 40-dollar checks given to each representative.

The billions of dollars spent on lobbying "buy access and silence," she said.

All speakers agreed on the need to support further restrictive legislation, although it remains to be seen whether or not there will be the same degree of zeal after yesterday's defeat of the "No Immunity" amendment.

The dinner and speech was co-sponsored by the Nathan Smith Society Premedical Society, the Cancer Awareness Organization

and The C. Everett Koop Institute.