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The Industry and the Schools

In contrast to its reaction to the anti-tobacco media campaign, the tobacco industry seemed satisfied with the school-based programs that the California Department of Education (CDE) was running. Indeed, some schools were actually using “educational” materials produced by the tobacco industry, even though these materials were widely viewed by tobacco control advocates as subtly encouraging smoking. CDE, unlike DHS, did not understand that the tobacco industry had to be treated as an adversary.

RJ Reynolds hired the consulting firm of Stratton, Reiter, Dupree & Durante from Denver to provide a thorough analysis of the structure of TCS, CDE, and the Proposition 99 anti-tobacco program.[13] By April 1991, the firm had concluded that the program in the schools did not threaten the industry and perhaps represented an opportunity. In a memorandum summarizing his conversations with the firm's Rick Reiter, Tim Hyde of RJ Reynolds wrote,

$72,000,000 [of the Health Education Account money] goes to the Department of Education for K-12 classroom uses. The specific allocation of this money is fairly straightforward. It is primarily being used for training and materials to be included as a tobacco supplement to drug and AIDS curriculum. There are also a few odds and ends, such as numerous “tobacco-free” contests and the like. Rick's preliminary suggestion is for us to take advantage of the review-committee opportunity to get industry personnel involved in the overall DOE decision-making process because the goals of this program are consistent with our own views on youth smoking.[14] [emphasis added]

The industry's consultants recognized the schools' lack of commitment to doing something about tobacco with the new Proposition 99 money. The report comments,


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Coincidently [sic], it wasn't until after passage of Prop 99 that CDE suddenly discovered tobacco prevention as being tantamount to promotion of healthy lifestyles for children. In reviewing HKHC [Health Kids, Healthy California] workshop materials developed prior to 1990, seemingly every health-related issue at the school level was emphasized except tobacco. …With the recent discovery of tobacco as a health threat came the discovery of a funding mechanism to supplement the newly introduced HKHC comprehensive health program. This co-mingling effort of shared resources suggests that CDE tobacco excise revenues are being used to supplement activities related to drug and alcohol prevention and cessation. These two areas are the priority health and safety concerns in the public schools.[13] [emphasis added]

The report was uncertain about the degree to which tobacco had, in fact, become part of the schools' program and suggested that the cutbacks could “be of some relief to the industry; funds are being shifted to areas outside of the Health Education Account, and CDE will continue spreading [the reduced allocation] among drug and alcohol programs rather than tobacco exclusively.”[13] The chief threat posed by the schools, according to the report, was that schools had helped frame the smoking issue as a health issue, which the tobacco industry had consistently tried to avoid in California. When smoking was framed as a health issue, not one of individual choice or taxation, the industry generally lost its political battles.

The tobacco industry had its own strategy for schools. It produced curricula designed to “educate” kids about tobacco without clearly discussing the health dangers of smoking or the fact that it killed adult smokers. RJ Reynolds produced “Right Decisions, Right Now”; the Tobacco Institute produced “Tobacco: Helping Youth Say No,” originally entitled “Helping Youth Decide.” Both packages were slickly produced and were free to schools. Rather than presenting tobacco as a dangerous product that should be avoided by everyone, these materials emphasized “the choice to smoke” and that “smoking was for adults.” The industry justified their materials with the objective of ensuring that “minors receive support and education in regard to smoking being an adult practice.”[9] These messages are consistent with traditional tobacco industry advertising themes—that smoking makes kids look grown up—and even convey the notion that smoking is a desirable “forbidden fruit” for youth.[15-17] The curriculum materials also seemed to serve an important political purpose for the industry: they supported the argument that there was no need for government to spend tax dollars to reduce smoking; the industry would take care of everything.

In the early years of Proposition 99's Tobacco Control Program, educators


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who should have known better contacted the tobacco companies and ordered some of the industry's materials for use in the schools. In April 1992, two and a half years after CDE began receiving Proposition 99 monies, Bill White (head of CDE's Tobacco Use Prevention Education program) telephoned RJ Reynolds to ask about the “Right Decisions, Right Now” program. H. E. Osman, to whom White had spoken, ran his response by his superiors, “given the sensitivity of sending anything to the Prop 99 people.” Osman's paranoia about White, however, was ill founded. A year later, some of the “Right Decisions, Right Now” posters were decorating the walls in the Healthy Kids, Healthy California office.

White was not the only person from the schools requesting these materials. Schools all over the state requested copies of the tobacco industry's “educational” materials, including one director of a Healthy Kids regional center.[18]


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