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PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | POSTCARD FROM CYBERSPACE / TERRY
SCHWADRON

Put That in Your Drive and Smoke It

May 12, 1997|TERRY SCHWADRON | Terry Schwadron is editor of Life & Style and oversees latimes.com, The Times' Web site. He can be reached via e-mail at terry.schwadron@latimes.com

Want an easy way to gauge whether the Internet is valuable as a personal reference library?

I have one word for you: tobacco.

The Web is awash in data about smoking and smoking health. Sites engage in active campaigns to promote smoking or to stop it. There are legal documents and scientific studies. There are advocacy organizations seeking members, and sites where you can register your comments.

Recent news developments have magnified what was already a loud chorus both for and against smoking. The federal court case in North Carolina--which resulted in a decision allowing government regulation of tobacco products--as well as a spate of other lawsuits against the tobacco companies and various revelations from tobacco industry whistle-blowers have produced mounds of claim and counterclaim.

All of it is on the Web, a veritable treasure trove of science and law, historical information, personal testimony and activist campaigns.

There is the proverbial good news and bad news. The good news is that it is easy to trust the provenance of what you're seeing on this subject; those publishing tobacco information are very clear about whether they're for or against something, and how they view documents and data. The bad news is volume. There is simply an overwhelming amount of information on this subject, and much of it is duplicative.

Here's a quick guide to some of what is available:

Government and Health Organizations

The Food and Drug Administration has a site at http://www.fda.gov/opacom/campaigns/tobacco.html that explains the rules designed to keep tobacco away from children and offers guidelines for small businesses on tobacco sales. There are links to lots of relevant documents. The government printing office (http://www.access.gpo.gov) also has these FDA documents in searchable form.

The Centers for Disease Control has a tobacco information and prevention page at http://www.cdc.gov that includes links to many scientific articles. There are pages from the attorney generals from Maryland, Washington, Connecticut and other states outlining their lawsuits against the tobacco companies.

The American Cancer Society, the World Health Organization and the American Heart Assn. all have sites that present tobacco health information.

The Anti-Smokers

Infact (http://www.infact.org) is an anti-tobacco-industry site that attacks smoking and more. It includes listings of household products to boycott because they are manufactured by companies that also produce cigarettes.

Action on Smoking & Health, a nonprofit legal-action group, has a page at http://www.ash.org. It houses voluminous documents on how best to battle the cigarette companies. At this Web site, one can find "secret" documents that have been leaked over time by whistle-blowing employees of the tobacco companies. The page makes clear it is anti-smoking, offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of tobacco executives for "cigarette-related felonies," airline smoking complaint kits, model legislation and e-mail routes to Congress.

A site called Health Authority features arguments from former smokers and smokers trying to quit (http://www.healthauthority.com). There is a site called the No Smoke Cafe (http://www.clever.net/chrisco/nosmoke/cafe.html) for those trying to kick the habit.

The Companies

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. has a home page that includes breaking news, a description of its own anti-smoking campaign for young people, links to supportive groups and the chance to download a "Right Decisions, Right Now" screen saver. The site (http://www.greensboro.com/rjrt) includes the text of recent court decisions as well as the company's take on the issues.

The Pro-Smokers

The American Smokers Alliance (http://www.smokers.org) is an industry site supported by citizens and the tobacco companies. Through this group it's easy to link to United Smokers of America, Friends of Tobacco, Uncommon Sense, Smoker's Home Page and Smoker's Freedom Society.

Even the names of the pages reflect the content. There is a strong sense of individual rights that runs through them. The American Smokers Alliance "is a nonprofit group of volunteers who believe that nonsmokers and smokers have equal rights and all that is needed is courtesy and mutual respect between people," the site promises.

A similar site is the National Smokers Alliance (http://www.speakup.org), which boasts a membership of 3 million "dedicated to fostering a society in which adult Americans will continue to have the freedom to make personal choices. . . ."

The sites themselves are simply assembled, attractive and easy to use. Finding one is a guarantee of finding links to others.

The Guide Sites

Among the best is Argus Clearinghouse (http://www.tobacco.org/Resources/tobsites.html), which is basically tobacco-neutral and offers a wonderful listing of links. The listings are organized in a way to make them useful and are kept updated with new entries.

Several university sites also are useful.

A Web site at Brown University (http://www.cs.brown.edu/people/lsh/smoking.html) is a good source for links representing several perspectives, including sites called Pro-Smoking Documents, Health Aspects, Tobacco News and Smoking Glamour.

The University of Arizona offers NicNet (http://www.ahsc.arizona.edu/nicnet/nicnet2.html) as an entryway to journals and research resources. The Tobacco Control Archives (http://www.library.ucsf.edu/tobacco/index.html) is assembled by the UC San Francisco Library. Among other items, there is a collection of the Brown & Williamson Co. documents that have been cited to challenge statements about nicotine levels in cigarettes.

A site called Tobacco Litigation (http://www.tobacco-litigation.com) proffers information from the various tobacco trials underway. The site, which is assembled by a company that contracts to work with lawyers, houses surveys, selected free trial texts from state cases and state-by-state updates on trials.

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