Without doubt, the Bill of Rights exhibit at the Salt Palace this week is a genuine historic treat, including a priceless original copy of of the 200-year-old document - one of only 12 still in existence. Unfortunately, the splendid display is tainted by having a tobacco company as its sponsor.
Philip Morris Co. the cigarette-based conglomerate, paid $600,000 to the National Archives for the right to take Virginia's original copy of the Bill of Rights on a nationwide tour, visiting all 50 states before December. Salt Lake City is the 29th stop on the tour of the $60 million exhibit.Anti-smoking advocates, who have nothing against the Bill of Rights but object to its linkage with a tobacco firm, demonstrated at the exhibit. The same thing has happened in the 28 other cities visited by the Philip Morris traveling caravan.
There will be those who object to such criticism and demonstrations since the free Bill of Rights exhibit is undeniably an excellent piece of work with real educational value. But it should be remembered that Philip Morris is not spending all those millions of dollars for nothing.
It's true there is nothing about cigarettes in the exhibit, not even any promotion of so-called "smokers' rights," although that connection might be implied, given the nature of the sponsor.
The Philip Morris exhibit is what is known as "institutional advertising," in which a company may sponsor or support a worthy cause - without overtly promoting its own product or service. This is done in the expectation that it will benefit the corporate image and cause people to think well of the firm.
Certainly, tobacco companies have a tarnished image, one they have earned as purveyors of addictive, health destroying products that are outlawed in television advertising and whose packages are clearly labeled as health hazards.
Philip Morris and other tobacco companies have used their huge wealth to acquire non-tobacco holdings, including major food corporations whose brands are household names. But the tobacco entities remain as the parent companies.
Utahns should not let their respect for the Bill of Rights be translated into admiration for Philip Morris or a weakening of anti-smoking efforts simply because the wealthy cigarette manufacturer is sponsoring the cross-country exhibit.