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From right field: The truth is out there … buries in financial statements

Someone mentioned the anti-smoking commercial campaign being waged by TheTruth.com. I don’t smoke, so although I have seen some of these ads, I didn’t pay much attention to them until asked. The commercials are indisputably intended to frighten the viewer into quitting smoking.

One ad, ‘Chalk Outlines,’ is guerrilla street theater at its pinnacle. Chalk outlines of bodies are drawn on the sidewalk, reminiscent of a homicide scene. The intent is to reveal the unholy body count attributable to the evil tobacco companies who have foisted upon its victims this terrible fate. Although the final version of this ad was mercifully un-narrated, I have, in the tradition of the New York Times, simply made up the following script that the actors would have spoken, had a dialog actually taken place.

Actor 1 [Looking distressed]: ‘Where’s Tiffany?’

Actor 2 [Looks skyward with a forlorn face]: ‘Tragically, sweet Tiffany has succumbed to the ravages of her lifelong nicotine habit.’

Actor 2 [Points accusatory at the sidewalk]: ‘Now thanks to those tobacco companies, all her family has left is this chalk outline.’

Actor 1 [Looks quizzically at chalk outline with chin cupped in hand]: ‘How could this happen to her?! For Christ sakes, she drives a Volvo!’

Actors 1 and 2 together [Shaking fists at the sky]: ‘Damn those dastardly tobacco companies!!!’

Fade to black screen. Bold white lettering appears: ‘Cigarettes make you suck.’

Get more edgy truthiness at TheTruth.comî.

The commercial struggles mightily to be seen as grassroots, with a hint of Seattle anarchist thrown in. It works in an ‘Inconvenient Truth’ kind of way. If you’re predisposed to needing evil lurking behind every cigarette sale, and can completely ignore the personal responsibility of the user, then this commercial is for you.

As for TheTruth.com, they are the marketing department of the American Legacy Foundation. ALF is a 501(c) organization created in 1999 as a result of the tobacco lawsuits, and the staggering $250 billion (got that? Billion. As in, with a ‘b’) Master Settlement Agreement that ended the lawsuit.

As you’re aware, a 501(c) organization does not pay any tax. Any. As in none. Nada. Zip. Ever. ALF, with its 85 employees, has current assets of $1,181,147,000.00, and pays no tax. That’s right folks. They are worth over a billion dollars, and owe exactly zero in taxes.

So generous are the employers at ALF that they have a retirement plan, medical benefits and a 401(k). They have even gone as far as providing an unsecured loan to one of their employees in order for that employee to buy a modest home. Who was that employee? Unsurprisingly, it was Dr. Cheryl Healton, president and chief executive officer of ALF. As the president of ALF, she arranged for the foundation to give her a $968,000.00 mortgage loan.

Nice.

So, let’s recap, shall we? In 1999 the U.S. government gets tired of all those inconsiderate smokers getting ill because some of the cost is being incurred by Medicaid. The government hauls the tobacco companies into court, where a settlement is eventually reached, which costs the offending tobacco companies a quarter of a trillion dollars. Ironically, the settlement does not ban the sale of tobacco. The tobacco companies may still sell their product, but they must now share the profits with the newly created American Legacy Foundation. ALF then uses this windfall to hire 85 employees, purchase a million dollar crib for the CEO, who then promotes anti-smoking ads wherein sweet Tiffany gets the short end of the deal in a cheesy street theater production.

A billion dollars in restitution and all I get is this lousy video.

‘ Megan Donahue is a junior nursing major. She is a non-smoker, and thanks to TheTruth squad, continues to be one.