For the past nine seasons, the Marlboro Man has taken his position in the outfield at Shea Stadium as a larger-than-life figure on a billboard. Anti-smoking activists want him dropped from the lineup.

Health advocates say the ad gets on television when cameras point that way, enabling Philip Morris USA to skirt a ban on cigarette commercials on TV.The protest is the latest in a string against tobacco companies' sponsorship of sporting events. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan has called such sponsorships "blood money."

In an article last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine Dr. Alan Blum said cigarette makers' sponsorship of auto racing gives them "millions of dollars in low-cost national exposure."

"The whole idea of tobacco sponsoring sporting events suggests that tobacco use is compatible with physical fitness and athletic performance when we know that the opposite is the case," said Dr. Ronald Davis, director of the Office on Smoking and Health for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

An anti-smoking group called Smokefree Educational Services has organized an opening day protest at the stadium next week to get the Marlboro Man benched.

Joseph Cherner, the group's president, said other activists have offered to buy the billboard space - which they estimated costs about $240,000 - when the tobacco company's contract expires at the end of the season.