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Scott Ostler

Run, Pause, Cough; Kick, Pause, Hack; Pass, Pause, Choke

April 18, 1985

If that skinny-cigarette company can use the sport of tennis to spread its word, why can't a group of crusading doctors do the same?

They can. They did.

They held the first annual Emphysema Slims Celebrity-Pro Tennis Tournament a couple weeks ago at Augusta, Ga.

They did it to raise money to brainwash kids.

Also to make a point.

"The tennis tournament was just our way of calling attention to the illogic and hypocrisy of tobacco companies sponsoring sporting events," Dr. Rick Richards said.

"Our other goal was to call for a ban on all cigarette sponsorship of sporting events."

Dr. Richards is president of DOC--Doctors Ought to Care.

Sorry, smokers. I know the last thing you need today is another lecture on the evils of your beloved pastime. It's bad enough that L.A.'s new smokers rights ordinance has driven you into broom closets and made you feel like social slime.

Don't worry. The crusading members of DOC aren't out to hassle you. They want your kids.

They believe your youngsters might be getting the wrong idea about smoking from seeing all those sports events underwritten by cigarettes.

"What the cigarette companies are selling is innocence by association," Dr. Richards said. "They are in effect saying to the public, 'See, it doesn't hurt your health.' "

The evidence, of course, is to the contrary. More women smoke now than ever, and just last February lung cancer surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause of death in American women.

The most popular cigarette among women is that certain skinny one that sponsors the women's tennis tour.

Other brands of smokes sponsor competition in soccer, golf, boxing, auto racing, skiing and just about any other sport where they can hang a banner over an event and call it their own.

This not-so-subtle linking of good sports and good tobacco is pounded home relentlessly by the smoke folks. This is bad for kids, DOC believes.

DOC was formed in 1977 to fight the cigarette people. It is a nonprofit, international organization supported by 2,000 doctors, medical students and health professionals. They use education and promotion to spread the word on smoking, drinking, drugging and junk-fooding.

"DOC's concern is to help today's young people turn the tables on Madison Avenue's promotion of unhealthy life styles--to stop, think and assume responsibility for their own lives," a spokesperson said.

"We're trying to show kids what's going on, let them decide for themselves. They're not getting all the facts."

DOC isn't saying that kids are so stupid they're going to take up smoking because they look up to athletes and athletes compete in events sponsored by cigarette companies.

It's just that cigarette sponsorship delivers a message that smoking is cool.

"What the tobacco industry fears most is not publicity about health problems, but non-smokers' rights," Dr. Richards said. "These new laws (like the one in Los Angeles) tell smokers that smoking is not the norm, that you're insulting us by smoking. And people just don't want to be rude, or do something socially unacceptable.

"When these companies sponsor a tennis tournament, what it does is create a social ambiance, create the impression that it's OK to smoke, even though most of the athletes don't."

Let other doctors study the effects of smoking. DOC figures it has enough evidence.

"Nothing makes the tobacco companies happier than to have physicians in labs, researching the problem," Richards said. "That keeps them out of the way. As soon as we're in the streets, we're a threat."

A threat to sports, maybe?

If DOC is successful in its battle to get cigarette companies out of athletics, what will happen?

It's not easy to find a sponsor to underwrite a major women's tennis tour, for example. If the skinny cigarette company is kicked out of tennis, will Martina and Chris and the other women players be tossed out on the street?

Not likely. Some company or corporation would pick up the sponsorship. Did we lose any TV shows when the government banned tobacco advertising on television?

The cigarette people aren't going to crumble tomorrow, anyway. They're prepared to battle.

But it's encouraging to see someone pointing out the often overlooked irony of healthy athletes performing feats of endurance, stamina and grace under banners that promote and glamorize a recognized health menace.

Oh, about that Emphysema Slims tournament. I forgot to ask who won. But I know who lost.

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