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News Summary

A smoke screen at the ballot box?

Publication Date: 2006-08-09
  • Author:Lea Thompson
  • Publication:NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams

Is Big Tobacco intentionally misleading voters in Ohio and Arizona?

What's the difference between Smoke Free Ohio and Smoke Less Ohio?

Well, you can't tell by the names. Smoke Free Ohio would ban smoking in all public places. If Smoke Less Ohio passes, smoking would be allowed almost everywhere — bowling alleys, bars, restaurants. The real difference? Smoke Less Ohio is backed by tobacco companies. But you won't find that anywhere on the petition.

"It's clearly a wolf in sheep's clothing," says John Seffrin with the American Cancer Society. "It makes it sound like they're trying to protect people when they're doing just the opposite."

And it's not just happening in Ohio. In Arizona, there are likely to also be two initiatives on the ballot: One called "Smoke Free Arizona" — backed by health groups — the other called "The Non-Smoker Protection Act" — which certainly sounds like it's in favor of a ban on smoking in public places. But it turns out to be almost entirely funded by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

And some of that money is paying for a professional public relations person who claims the tobacco industry is looking out for people who don't smoke.

"We're proud to have their support and certainly the industry's attention and focus on the rights of non-smokers," says Camilla Strongin with the Arizona Non-Smoking Protection Committee.

But are the tobacco companies playing fair? When NBC News approached petition gatherers in Phoenix with our hidden cameras, they never told us they were being paid by cigarette makers. In fact, they implied just the opposite.