After decades of peddling poison, the "Snarlburro Man" saw the error of his ways and Monday joined members of Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Utah who were lobbying for HB53.

The scary character, long a proponent of the tobacco industry, became a courier for the coalition's "Tobacco-Gram," which highlighted for legislators key aspects of the controversial bill.The bill would increase penalties for unlawful sales and possession of tobacco products, prohibit tobacco vending machines sales except in public bars and prohibit tobacco use on school grounds and child care centers during regular school hours.

Insisting that some 390,000 Americans die prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses, a coalition spokesperson said the tobacco industry represents "the epitome of an industry without a conscience."

"The central issue of this bill is not free choice, morality or the state's image as the tobacco industry and other opponents of the bill would have you believe," said Kathryn Manning, coalition chairwoman. "It's about the health and safety of our young people."

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kim R. Burningham, R-Bountiful, and Rep. Hugh D. Rush, D-Salt Lake, will be heard Tuesday before the House Health Standing Committee. Heavy opposition from the tobacco industry is expected.

"I am optimistic it will get a fair hearing in the state of Utah because the purpose of the bill is to protect the health of adolescents," Rush said. The Rush/Burmingham bill is closely patterned after what U.S. Surgeon General Everett Koop is recommending on a national level.

"This bill is not intended to restrict the rights of smokers who are adults. It has no application to the system of higher education," Rush said. "It's geared only for places where young people are assembled in private or public elementary and secondary schools."

Every state that has tried to pass a similar bill has been beaten down by the tobacco industry. Rush believes that the bill's measures are defensible in Utah.