In my last post, I mentioned that I had researched the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, a database of tobacco company documents, for letters from children and young people to tobacco companies and their executives. I felt sure there’d be plenty of them, because kids are honest and well meaning and often have a sense of truth and justice greater than that of adults. I was rewarded with a wealth of letters written by kids of all ages, from fourth graders upwards. What amazed me was that the tobacco companies rarely responded to these wonderful, thoughtful, usually polite letters. I was also impressed by the knowledge of many of these young people and the forthright and concerned way in which they worded their letters. I was not at all impressed by the way the adult executives of the tobacco companies handled this mail, which perseveres forever the opinions, concerns and humanity of generations of young people whom the tobacco industry ignored and forgot.
Here are some excerpts from more letters sent by young children and teens to tobacco companies:
(1) One of my favourites is from a 12-year-old, sent to the Tobacco Institute in Washington, D.C. in 1996:
To Whom it May Concern,
My name is Brynne XXXXXXX. I am twelve years old and in the seventh
grade. My class, along with the whole state of Georgia, is doing a social
science project. My project is about the health effects of smoking and why
people smoke. I’d appreciate it if you would send me some statistics about
the number of people, approximately, that die of what smoking related
diseases in the United States ( different kinds of cancers, heart diseases, etc.),
the number of people of each race that die of smoking related diseases, the
number of people of each age group that die of smoking related diseases, etc.
These figures would help me tremendously with the pie graphs that are
needed to go on my backboard. I’d be very grateful, if you would, please
respond as quickly as possible to my request.
This young child is clearly asking some legitimate questions, to which answers were available, and she undoubtedly wants to do a great job of her school project, so she turns to the organisation that she feels will have the answers for her. I give her an “A” for enthusiasm, thoroughness, dedication and politeness. Interestingly, the Tobacco Institute did respond to this child’s wonderful letter, but only to say that they couldn’t send her any information. I give the Tobacco Institute’s adults who sent her the reply an “F” for FAIL, for their arrogance, rudeness, lack of concern for a smart child, and evasion of the truth about the horrible statistics of tobacco-related diseases. Here’s their response, for what it’s worth:
Dear Ms. XXXXXX:
Thank you for your request for information from The Tobacco Institute. The tobacco industry does not believe that anyone under age should smoke, and that smoking is an adult custom. In keeping with this policy, we cannot send you information.
(2) Here’s a straightforward and honest letter from a fifth grader to R.J.Reynolds tobacco company, in 1992:
Dear Mr. Johnston,
I am a fifth grader at XXXXXX Elementary School in…..Illinois. Our
class is the smoke-free class of 2000. I think that selling cigarettes isn’t a good
idea. My grandpa died of lung cancer from smoking cigarettes. I don’t think that
it is right to make money and for people to die from cigarettes. I think it is a
waste of people’s money.
I understand that you have this job and that you have to feed your family. I
also know that cigarettes are addictive. I think that you are just as addicted to
money as smokers are to cigarettes. It is just as hard to quit your job as smokers
can quit smoking! ! !
I hope I got my point across so you can understand it well. I hope you think
about what I said and I hope you change your mind.
In 1992, the tobacco industry was trying to tell us that nicotine (and therefore, tobacco) wasn’t addictive, yet this intelligent 5th grader was pretty certain, and correctly so, of the addictiveness of cigarettes, and he got it spot-on right when he suggests that the tobacco executives were as addicted to money as smokers are to smoking. Of course, I can’t find a response from R.J.Reynolds to this young man, whose poor grandpa died from smoking-related lung cancer, again showing how despicable the tobacco industry is and how little they cared (and still care) about kids.
(3) Here’s another outstanding letter sent in 1996 by a 12-year-old to Philip Morris tobacco company. The words could just have well come from my own voice today! “Death in the West,” by the way, is a tobacco education movie well worth watching and was very effective in educating kids about the health hazards of tobacco, so much so that when it initially came out, the tobacco industry fought legally (and succeeded for a while) in preventing the movie from being shown. Do you think that Philip Morris replied to this child’s Letter of Truth? Well, I couldn’t find a reply, as you probably predicted.
Dear Phillip Morris Company :
I have just finished watching “Death in the West” . My
reactions toward this video are, (1) you guys can’t lie very well
and (2) why would you keep selling a product that kills a lot of
people every day, plus smoke yourself?
Look I’m not going to tell you guys how to run your business,
but I just don’t see why anyone would want to sell a product that
can cause Lung Cancer, Bronchitis, Heart Disease or Still Births,
just to name a few .
I am twelve years old and I haven’t thought once about
smoking, neither do I like being around anyone that does . If
someone does start to smoke, I’ll leave the room or go outside .
once again, you guys lie just to sell your product . Don’t you
_ feel at least a little bit guilty when someone dies from your
(4) Let’s show another letter, shall we? I love this one, handwritten neatly by a 5th grader in 1978 and posted to R.J.Reynolds tobacco company:
You may think I am a little fifth grader and I am unintelligent. I am not and I can see through your phoney advertising and my personal feeling is that it stinks. You and your husky men and sexy women, If that does not get (to) a person, sending your Vantage ads will. Well I think it’s all a lot of trash. You come from all directions just to get a person smoking. Why don’t you show a smoker’s lung? It is a fact that smoking is dangerous to a persons health. It is a fact that it can cause cancer. You can fool some of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. You put the warning about cigarettes in all the unnoticeable places. Why don’t you put it right in the middle of the advertisement? Why don’t you stop and tell the truth about smoking? You people have stealthy moves.
This child is so smart that he/ she anticipates some later tobacco laws, such as having graphic pictorial warnings on cigarette packaging and using more visible health warnings. I am impressed with this youngster, but again, I saw no reply from R.J.Reynolds, and- in this child’s words- my personal feeling is that it stinks!