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News (Media Awareness Project) - Column: Derrick Z. Jackson
Title:Column: Derrick Z. Jackson
Published On:1997-06-02
Fetched On:2008-01-28 23:30:32
A lonely soldier in the tobacco war
By Derrick Z. Jackson, Globe Columnist, 05/30/97

Given the prominence of the tobacco wars, Calvin Butts,
pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem,
remains a peculiarly lonely soldier among
AfricanAmericans.

His whitewashing of cigarette billboards and getting
billboard companies to move liquor and tobacco ads
away from schools and churches has created more
grumbling than praise among elite AfricanAmerican
politicians, publishers, and art directors. Most major
AfricanAmerican organizations receive funding or
advertising revenue from big tobacco.

``I was on a plane sitting with Robert Johnson [late editor
of Jet magazine],'' Butts said Wednesday before
speaking at an AfricanAmerican leadership luncheon on
tobacco in Boston. ``He told me, `Butts, you're causing
trouble. We at the magazine have been told that we need
to look at alternatives to ads from tobacco companies.'''

Despite the conversation, cigarette ads continue in glossy
magazines geared for AfricanAmericans. Joe Camel
may be under siege from the Federal Trade Commission
and attorneys general from 31 states, but he still found
refuge this month in jazzy doublepage spreads in
Essence and Ebony Man. Ebony, Ebony Man, and Jet
are owned by Johnson Publications.

It is no accident that major AfricanAmerican politicians
have yet to follow Butts's lead. Of the 39 members of the
congressional Black Caucus, 21 have received at least
$5,000 in campaign contributions from Big Tobacco
since 1986.

Ironically for Butts, his longtime congressman in Harlem
is Charles Rangel. Rangel is always the first man in
Washington to complain about illegal drugs flooding
Harlem. But even though smoking accounts for seven
times more deaths among AfricanAmericans than drug
overdoses and drugrelated homicides, Rangel has said
nothing about tobacco's attack on AfricanAmericans.

Small wonder. Rangel has received $47,950 in tobacco
political action committee contributions since 1986,
ranking him 19th in the 435member House. Another
AfricanAmerican congressman from New York City,
Ed Towns, is 15th on the list at $51,075.

Other highly visible AfricanAmericans in Congress who
have taken at least $5,000 of tobacco money: Senator
Carol MoseleyBraun of Illinois and Representatives Mel
Watt of North Carolina, Cynthia McKinney of Georgia,
Floyd Flake of New York, Carrie Meek of Florida,
Louis Stokes of Ohio, J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, William
Clay of Missouri, and Maxine Waters and Julian Dixon
of California.

The money given to AfricanAmerican politicians might
seem pale next to that given to other groups. Philip
Morris, for example, gave a total of $1 million in 1991 to
the Urban League, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the
Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, the Studio Museum in
Harlem, and the Dance Theater of Harlem.

But Butts is rightfully adamant that politicians bear a
special responsibility to reject tobacco money since their
presumed mission is to protect their constituents from
abuse. ``Towns and Rangel have to say it's sheer
hypocrisy,'' Butts said. ``Especially Charles Rangel. He's
been there 28 years. You've been there that long, you
ought to be able to say that tobacco companies are drug
dealers as much as dealers of other drugs.

``The AfricanAmerican male life expectancy in Harlem
is less than the life expectancy [of males] in Bangladesh.
Rangel is a stable, strong, a ranking member of
Congress. Why not say, `Let's get out here and fight this
thing?'''

It is harder for Butts to openly criticize organizations such
as the United Negro College Fund. In 1988, the UNCF
received $424,000 from big tobacco. When its
president, Bill Gray, was a congressman, he was in
Rangel's league in taking tobacco money.

Without people like Gray and Kweisi Mfume, head of
the NAACP, Butts is concerned that AfricanAmericans
will ultimately lose the tobacco war. If the attorneys
general, for example, negotiate a deal with the tobacco
companies that give cigarette makers future immunity
from lawsuits, AfricanAmerican men, who smoke at
higher rates than most segments of the population and
who have fewer resources to hire antismoking lawyers,
will be disproportionately locked out of redress for their
illnesses.

``I'm tired of being the bad guy,'' Butts said. ``Bill Gray is
a great guy, and he does great and important work in our
communities. And I have to stand up and tell him he's a
hypocrite? Instead of direct confrontation, I'm hoping for
some gentle persuasion with the facts about what is
happening in our community. They know what the right
thing is, but they're unable to turn down the money. It's
too hard. But the day has to come when we decide that
the lives of people are more important than the money.''

Derrick Z. Jackson is a Globe columnist.
This story ran on page A23 of the Boston Globe on 05/30/97.
© Copyright 1997 Globe Newspaper Company.
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