There's no constitutional right to peddle an addictive poison that kills millions of Americans, say anti-smoking advocates who have hounded a Bill of Rights exhibit wherever it travels through the country.
But Philip Morris Companies Inc., the cigarettemaker that is sponsoring the mobile exhibit, takes the protesters in stride. In fact, the tobacco company has even reserved what it calls a "soapbox" for them.The center of the storm is a traveling exhibit featuring a 200-year-old handwritten copy of the Bill of Rights. The document belongs to the state of Virginia, which was the last of the original states to ratify the bill, creating the first 10 amendments to the Constitution.
The exhibit, now set up near the Salt Palace, is touring the United States, a 26,000-mile journey that takes the antique vellum from Montgomery, Ala., to Honolulu; from San Francisco to Augusta, Maine.
Housed in a special van along with special-effects reproductions, the copy of the Bill of Rights will be on display today through Saturday. Or, as a Philip Morris ad in today's Deseret News says somewhat melodramatically, "The document that's been protecting our freedoms for 200 years will be gone on May 4."
That ad and the Philip Morris sponsorship of the Bill of Rights tour have sparked a counter-ad and a counterdemonstration. And other Utahns have vowed to hold counter-counterdemonstrations.
An advertisement placed by The Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Utah charges among many other things that the tobacco industry has tried to thwart freedom of speech - the free discussion that the Bill of Rights is supposed to promote.
A satiric 12-foot Statue of Liberty has been following the Bill of Rights van. The statue, designed and financed by Doctors Ought to Care, shows Liberty chained to cigarettes, symbolizing America's addiction to tobacco.
Instead of a torch, she carries a lit cigarette. She stands on cartons and cigarettes purchased by youths in Seattle. She has a "death clock" that logs the number of people who have died from tobacco-related causes - cancer, emphysema, lung disease, etc. - since the Philip Morris tour started in October 1990.
"When it comes to Utah, it will be 243,852" deaths, said Christine Chalkley, executive secretary for The Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Utah.
The Bill of Rights exhibit is traveling to 52 cities, and the statue and protesters show up wherever the van goes.
"The coalition is encouraging all men, women and children to see this document," Chalkley said of the Bill of Rights. "It's a landmark document."But what we are doing is just exposing the tobacco industry for what it is. We know that smoking is not a constitutional right, it's a behavior that people choose.
"We feel that they put little value of life, that they're being very deceitful and that they undermine the freedom of speech and expression. We don't think well of their company. Philip Morris peddles poisons. We wouldn't feed this to our dogs.
"The Bill of Rights stands for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; and nicotine addiction stands for illness, disease, discomfort, distress and death."
Telephone calls to other cities visited on the tour confirm that anti-smoking demonstrators have been active there, too.
"They've been going all along, everywhere they go," Mark Lowe of California's Oakland Tribune said, speaking about the protesters. "They definitely had that here."
An interesting twist is that in California, Act Up, a gay activists group, also demonstrated against Philip Morris, along with anti-smoking organizations. The gays protested "because Philip Morris is a contributor to Jesse Helms' campaign." Helms, a U.S. senator from North Carolina, a state that grows millions of bushels of tobacco, is known for his stance against homosexuality.
Kathy Tulumello of the Phoenix Gazette said, "Outside the exhibit, which was here on April 11, protesters erected a replica of the Statute of Liberty bound in chains, holding a pack of cigarettes instead of a book, and holding a cigarette butt in her upraised arm."