Health advocates are planning that most American of events - a good, old-fashioned political protest - as the Bill of Rights comes to town.
They're protesting because the exhibit is underwritten by Philip Morris Companies Inc., a conglomerate that owns Kraft General Foods, Miller Brewing Co. and one of the country's largest tobacco manufacturers."Philip Morris is attempting to help the public overlook the lethal effects of its products," said Christine Chaulkey, executive secretary of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Utah. "Smoking is a choice. It's not a constitutional right."
The coalition held a press conference Wednesday and will protest outside the exhibit. Included will be Nicotina, a 12-foot replica of the Statue of Liberty chained to tobacco, and Drag Not, Utah's anti-tobacco mascot.
Mary Taylor, spokeswoman for Philip Morris, says the point of the exhibit is to show off the country' guarantee ofindividual rights. All along the tour, residents have protested local issues, "because it is the Bill of Rights and people want to come out and have their rights."
Citizens have the right to make choices, she said, and that includes smoking if they want. "We all make choices in our lives. And if you're an adult, that's your choice to make."
But cigarettes are a fatal product if used as the manufacturer recommends, said Dr. Harry Gibbons, director of the Salt Lake City-County Health Department. And medical research shows that non-smokers need to be concerned about the effects of second-hand smoke.
People should take advantage of the opportunity to see the historic document, but not let Philip Morris "buy innocence," Chaulkey and Gibbons said.
Nearly 700 people die in Utah every year of smoking-related causes, while related illnesses cost the insurance industry $100 million.
Nationally, about 1,190 people die each day due to their smoking habits. "If it were dogs or animals or raccoons or minks, we would scream and holler and get front page news," Chaulkey said.
But Taylor said viewers will see little corporate advertising at the exhibit.
The company conceived a touring exhibit after sponsoring a commercial to mark the 200th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. Three million people called to request copies of the document.
Taylor said more than 680,000 people have toured the exhibit so far, thanks to corporate sponsorship.
She likened the Bill of Rights tour to other companies' red-white-and-blue projects, such as American Express sponsoring the Statue of Liberty restoration or Chrysler Corp. sponsoring the Ellis Island restoration.