David Goerlitz, the face of Winston cigarette advertisements for six years, is going through his second bout of disillusionment with the tobacco sector. The first came in November 1988 — after Goerlitz served as the “Winston Man” for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. from 1981 to 1987. That’s when he spoke out against the industry and what he considered as manufacturers’ practice of targeting youth worldwide with their products.
Goerlitz has offered thousands of testimonial speeches to business and civic groups, as well as educational programs to as young an audience as elementary-school students.
Goerlitz did not work with Alan Landers, another model for Winston cigarette ads who also became an outspoken critic of the industry. Landers died while undergoing treatment for throat cancer on Feb. 27. Goerlitz has had his own health issues, including having a stroke several years ago.
Recently, Goerlitz began speaking out about how politics within the anti-tobacco and health-advocacy fields has affected their message, and how the groups have marginalized his services with their own agendas.
Goerlitz took time out to talk about his new stance. An edited version follows:
Q. Why the change of heart/perspective on the anti-tobacco movement? Is it a particular opinion about how the $206 billion money from the Master Settlement Agreement has been used or anything else in particular?
A. I became disillusioned when no one in power did anything about what could have been a wonderful opportunity to put health and welfare above politics. I guess it’s true that greed always will outweigh fear.
We got the tobacco industry to admit they would stop marketing to kids, after they had denied it for 50 years. My work was done, and my story was no longer relative. The manufacturers were going to be punished.
Let the suits and experts and politicians sort the mess out, all the while being guaranteed an income for the next 25 years, including the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and the American Legacy Foundation.
People like me were no longer needed to do programs. I was told, in many states I previously had worked in their schools, that studies had been done and research showed that it was not effective to have speakers who were former “addicts.”
When I was deposed as a fact witness in the early lawsuits, it was calculated that I had done more than 1,000 programs. Since 1998 (when the Master Settlement Agreement was established), I’ve done only about 250-300, which were repeat clients and schools that I had established a relationship with.
Less than 5 percent of the MSA monies went to what it was originally intended for. The public is not aware of this. They seem clueless as to what you and I know about what this is really all about. In my opinion, the MSA should be overturned and ruled unconstitutional.
Q. Why are you more interested in supporting the efforts of the smaller manufacturers, such as General Tobacco?
A. I’m interested in helping anyone who has been bullied. I have been bullied.
The grass-roots tobacco-control agencies, who had the same expectations that I had, no longer exist and they were bullied. My programs usually were/are covered by those agencies through grants.
Even the small tobacco companies that were forced to pay the same amount to the states had no say in the negotiations.
No one could grasp the enormity of the situation. It was simple — keep making the little guy pay, keep the smokers arguing for their right to smoke and tax the hell out of them with illegal increases.
All the while not realizing the tobacco companies were in cahoots with tobacco control.
Q. What is the future of smokeless tobacco in terms of attracting consumers?
A.Given the history and reputation of the tobacco industry in not being forthcoming with the risks of cigarettes, can the industry be believed when it tries to pitch harm-reduction benefits of next-generation smokeless products to smokers?
The future of smokeless tobacco is, in my opinion, another smokescreen.
Even though we still have 23 states with virtually no Clean Indoor Air legislation, smokers are being forced out of the public view and still treated as lepers.
The more options we give someone who is addicted, the more they will jump on the obvious. I for one believe that smokeless tobacco — even though a disgusting addiction — is the lesser of the two evils. I know of only a few people who are walking around with mouth cancer and or lip cancer.
On the other hand, I know lots of smokers who now have cancer, asthma, emphysema, etc. If one of my kids were to use tobacco, I would recommend spit tobacco.
I don’t see women picking it up at all, so I don’t think it will be a big marketing issue for Big Tobacco.
Q. How do you expect your new stance on tobacco to affect your career?
A. I’m sure by the time I’m done exposing the truth, it will come back and bite me.
The way it’s going now, I put myself in a war that cannot be won. I think I’ll start my own form of tobacco education for kids. The truth is I don’t care what they say about me.
Q. Can the tobacco industry survive as a smaller, smokeless-oriented endeavor?
A. The tobacco companies will always be here. They will always be profitable because my country does not know how to put the health and the welfare of a child above someone’s right to kill him or herself if they want.
There is no lily white side here, and I’m just one guy trying to put out an out-of-control forest fire. The tobacco companies will be here forever.
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