Cigarette Company’s Bill of Rights Display Leads to Counter-Display
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ When Philip Morris spent millions on a high-tech, 50-state exhibition of the Bill of Rights, cynics complained the cigarette company wanted to convey a not-so-subtle message: One of our inalienable rights is the right to smoke.
Now the American Lung Association of Connecticut is delivering its own message with a no-tech, low-budget counter-exhibition of the revered document.
″It’s not an established right for someone to blow smoke in my face,″ said John E. Zinn, the lung association’s executive director in Connecticut. ″What they’re trying to do is perpetuate this myth where smoking is a right and polluting other people’s air is a right.″
Philip Morris Cos. borrowed Virginia’s copy of the Bill of Rights for a 16- month tour that began Oct. 10 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the signing of the document.
When the lung association heard the tour was coming to New Haven earlier this month, members quickly arranged their own exhibit, moving Connecticut’s copy from the Connecticut State Library to the Old State House in Hartford.
Connecticut’s copy is one of 13 given to the original states after the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. The federal government also has a copy, on display in Washington.
Costs for the Philip Morris tour, including advertising and security, are expected to top $60 million. The lung association’s month-long exhibition, which opened Friday, cost $300.
The Philip Morris exhibition uses blue lights and loud music to show off the Bill of Rights in an elaborate multi-media show. The document is transported around the country in an armored car, accompanied by a caravan of six trucks, four vans and two buses.
Wilson H. Faude, executive director of the Old State House, used his 1983 Nissan to transport the Bill of Rights for the lung association’s exhibition from its home at the state library. The document is displayed in a simple glass case.
″There’s a certain dignity surrounding the Bill of Rights,″ Zinn said. ″We’ll leave the splashy demonstration to them.″
Philip Morris, a conglomerate that also owns Kraft General Foods and Miller Brewing Co., denied it wanted to make a statement about smoking.
″There’s absolutely nothing in the tour that promotes any of our products, nothing whatsoever, and how touring the Bill of Rights is going to fight smoking restrictions is beyond me,″ said the company’s Mary Taylor.
Anti-smoking groups or gay activists angered by the company’s support of Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., have protested the Philip Morris tour at stops in Barre, Vt.; West Warwick, R.I.; Augusta, Maine; New Haven; Albany, N.Y.; and Boston.
Visitors at the lung association’s exhibition on Monday were divided over the Philip Morris tour.
″I’m against smoking, but the fact is, nobody’s asking people to smoke just because they come see this,″ said Peter Ottaviano, a Hartford insurance agent.
″It’s their right to sponsor it, but I think their motives are questionable,″ said Val Pajer of Durham. ″Something like this, something that’s part of our heritage, should not be connected with a profit-making motive.″
Faude said the controversy probably has helped boost attendance at the Connecticut exhibit. In three days, it has drawn 8,000 people.
″This debate is good,″ he said. ″I think all this means is that the Bill of Rights is very healthy.″