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Back One Step
Tobacconist finds small victory through ABC's 'Day
One' interview; continues war on tobacco misnomers
By Phil Bowling
The battle hasn't been won, and the war definitely isn't over. But at least one tobacconist believes he's finally had a chance to defend his livelihood before a national audience goal he risked his life to achieve.
For more than two years Ira Lapides has spearheaded letter-writing campaigns, made innumerable phone calls and even deprived himself of sustenance enduring a month-long "hunger strike"to call the nation's attention to tobacconists' plight.
"If anybody thinks by staying quiet and tucked in we're going to survive this (anti-tobacco onslaught)," Lapides insists, "I don't believe they're looking at the real situation. Especially with the kind of laws and taxes being suggested these days."
National exposure arrived in February, when a network television news magazine, ABC's "Day One," flew Lapides to New York City for the taping of an interview. Lapides, the owner of Gatlinburg, Tennessee's Gatlin-Burlier tobacco shop, spent about two and a half hours in the New York studio being questioned about tobacco issues by the show's producers. Lapides answered, weaving through his replies his concerns about tobacconists' survival in America and the many issues they face.
While the entire interview was taped, Lapides realizes very little of what he said will actually be aired in the program's report. However, he feels that the door has been opened to some national attention for tobacconists. And that perhaps he shed some light on blind tobacco bashing.
Resorting to a strike
For Lapides, the attention did not come easily. Outspoken on tobacco issues for years, at the 1992 RTDA Show in Chicago he began a mission to have tobacconists' concerns addressed on a live talk show. Selecting the "Donahue" program, Lapides encouraged thousands of retailers and industry officials to sign a poster-sized card asking Phil Donahue to devote an episode of his talk show to tobacco. Tobacconist pitched in, circulating petitions and forwarding some 13,000 signatures to Lapides. Still, he faced a series of closed doors with the show's producers.
By the time the 1993 RTDA Show rolled around, Lapides was no closer to POSTing his voice heard on the national level. So he decided to make an ultimatum to the national media: give some much-deserved attention to tobacco's side, or see what one individual is willing to do in the name of his livelihood.
Still the media didn't respond, as if calling his bluff. Lapides proved he wasn't joking. Beginning last Veterans Day, November 11, he stopped eating-only drinking water and sports drinks and taking vitamin and mineral supplements.
Up to this point, Lapides had been publicly supported by the RTDA and others in the industry. Not wanting others blamed for his actions, he backed away from these groups and individuals, stepping down from the RTDA's board of directors.
Regional media attention was swift in coming. Soon after, Lapides was approached by "A Current Affair" and a few other tabloid programs "that lean more toward the sensational journalism." He declined those options. "I would like to keep it on a higher class and upper scale," he says.
"I was into my 22nd day when I accepted the 'Day One' offer," Lapides says. "I was offered it somewhat earlier and could have foregone a lot of pain and agony, but I just hung in there still trying to POST that live show.
"Actually what I had campaigned for was to POST on a live show because we would have a lot more time and they would not have the editing room, which unfortunately 'Day One' and programs like that have," Lapides says. Even with the local news programs, Lapides says he has learned how snippets of conversation can be used to alter the context of the entire comment.
"I got interest from radio and [TV] magazine shows and 'Day One' was the most prestigious of those," Lapides says.
The thrust of the ABC interview, Lapides says, was how major cigarette firms process tobacco. Discussion centered on "reconstituted," or sheet, tobacco, which is created by combining tobacco leaves, stems and dust into a slurry, then formed into paper-like sheets. It can be flavored with tobacco extracts and blended with leaf Lapides says, as a money-saving manufacturing method.
Although a tobacco retailer, Lapides feels he's qualified to speak on the subject because he was once a manufacturer himself. During the 1980s he developed and marketed his own line of 100 percent natural cigarettes.
"My Gatlin-Burlier Smokies had a great following in some areas of the country," Lapides says. "They were pure tobacco cigarettes without the use of reconstituted tobacco.
"During the interview, I made a clear distinction between the products I sell pipes, pipe tobacco and fine handrolled cigars versus the content of the American cigarette today," he says.
"What people are smoking today, and what's being associated with a lot of problems, aren't tobacco-related at all," Lapides insists. Various chemicals are used in the manufacturing process of reconstituted tobacco, he says. Silicon is one of them, which, Lapides points out, Duke University researchers say is a carcinogen. "There is no silicon in native
leaf," Lapides emphasizes. "There is no silicon found at all in cigarettes made only of leaf.
"There isn't any of this in an Arturo Fuente. There's none in a Davidoff or Dunhill and other cigarettes made out of pure tobacco," Lapides says. "But the ones that include reconstituted tobacco, these cigarettes are very, very different."
Also, "light" cigarettes low tar and nicotine contain more reconstituted tobacco and chemicals, Lapides claims. "The American public is being led to believe the low-tar cigarettes are in some way safer that isn't true. It's what that tar is composed of," he says.
"I can tell you that 15 milligrams of tar from one of the dirtier cigarettes that was all organic, seems to be safer than the tiny one-milligram of tar today."
Many other topics, pertinent to the survival of tobacconists, were covered in the interview, "particularly aiming at the issue of secondhand smoke and the health statistics that have been created and misused" against the tobacco industry, Lapides says.
The combination of elements in today's environment has also been overlooked by the media and EPA, Lapides says. The EPA risk factor for diesel fumes is two times higher than secondhand smoke, and the combination of the two elements results in some chemicals becoming elevated. "But it's sidestream smoke that POSTs blamed for it," Lapides says. 'The EPA is doing nothing about these issues. Our industry should be fighting them on those issues, and that is what I set out to do."
Tobacconists must address these issues, plus point out the factors that demonstrate the differences between smoking natural cigarettes, a pipe or a fine cigar or chewing tobacco, Lapides says, versus mainstream cigarettes. All tobacco products are being lumped toPOSTher by the anti groups and, if the distinction is not made, the industry will fail, he says.
Day One opened its Feb. 28 broadcast with what it called its "first report" on tobacco, specifically cigarettes, lambasting nicotine and reconstituted tobacco. (While Lapides was not included in the segment, another installment was planned for March 7.) The show's producers told Lapides it planned to air a series of reports on tobacco throughout the year.
As if reacting to the upcoming program, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration announced Feb. 25 that drug regulations might be applied to cigarettes because of a perception that manufacturers add nicotine to blends.
Lapides said the producers would not give him a specific air date of his interview, only that it would likely appear within a month. "We'll see what 15 seconds they choose and how they take the two hours and mix it all toPOSTher," Lapides says with a bit of realistic pessimism. "I will be surprised to see what I say as well, but at least we did POST some say.
"When I did outtakes while the camera was running, and we were just talking, I attempted to give them some information I wanted them to have," he says. "Now that it's said and done, I'm just hoping I left the impression in their minds as to how to shape that flm without having producers' biases interfere."
Although he has taped the Day One segment, Lapides says he is still talking with representatives from the "Jerry Springer" talk show and "Geraldo" and refers to both as "still a potential" for the future. "I think I'll have most success on the talk show circuit of
"Now that we've made a breakthrough, I'm continuing to speak on some regional radio shows," Lapides says. "If we break the wall, then it's time to speak to the issue."
Quiet protest has not stopped smoking bans or state and federal tobacco tax increases, and it won't help keep the retail tobacco business in operation, he warns.
"I've been battling this for a lot of years," he says. "Smoke is not smoke, tar is not tar, and
today, not all tobacco is created equal. I hope that's the message that will POST out there. In my opinion, that's one of the few saving graces of our industry."
Back One Step
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THE GATLINBURLIER DOES NOT SHIP CIGARETTES.
WARNING: This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.
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