The bucket of slimy, hungry leeches I dumped on President Healton’s duct-taped lap is stinking up her ritzy Washington D.C. office.
Three fat and green ones writhe on the American Legacy Foundation’s new carpet, looking for flesh or water. One slithers into President Cheryl Healton’s armpit and the 48-year-old woman who holds a Ph.D. in public health writhes in bound terror.
“OK! OK! I admit it!” the president yells. “The pottery collection and paperweights are a bit conspicuous!”
“That’s not it, Cheryl,” I shout. “That’s not why I flew all the way out from California with my psychotic crew of nicotine junkies.” Nearby, Drano and T-Bone snarl in withdrawal and flick their revolver safeties on and off. I toss them two small hunks of nicorette gum and they swallow it greedily. I turn to the anti-smoking czar bound to her plush president’s chair.
“You brought this on yourself. People like you jacked up the price of cigarettes, made Drano and T-Bone quit cold turkey and turned them into bitchy violent drones. It’s not the pottery, Cheryl, it’s the principle.”
“Right!” Cheryl wails. “The American Legacy Foundation is dedicated to the principle of ending the pain and suffering caused by all tobacco-related illnesses.”
I shake the last of the Amazonian leeches out of a bright orange messenger bag embroidered “Truth” – more merchandising schlock in Legacy’s marketing campaign. Cheryl’s screams and wriggles about. “You can’t stop suffering and illness with Truth T-shirts and bumper stickers and ads Cheryl. The stupid hip hop kids with the body bags and the cool lingo – they stop today or I leave you with your own kind: these fat leeches!”
“I hate some of the Truth ads, too,” Cheyrl said. “They’re for teenagers, not adults.”
“Bullshit,” I say. “Millions of long-term suicidal adults endure the ‘don’t smoke’ campaigns. Not only do we despise the paltry attempts at social change you’re trying to evoke, we are doubly burned by the desire for a cigarette and the chagrin of knowing smoking only pays for more crappy ads! It stops today.”
“But the ad designer Pete! And the Truth kids! And the Truth van! And the Truth clothing line,” Cheryl whines.
“No more, Doctor. Since The American Legacy Foundation got the $1.5 billion tobacco settlement in ’98 you’ve wasted it on a cushy office, a bunch of bureaucracy and over $200 million in ads, bad ads. You’ve seen the SportsCenter ads with the guy face-diving off a cliff – that’s funny. You’re not even doing that.”
“But we’re trying to make a market out of -”
I stuffed a sock in the president’s face. “The whole point of this fictionalized attack is so I can speak and you can listen for a change, Cheryl.”
“Is it ‘Truth’ that your Foundation isn’t spending the tobacco settlement money on helping smokers or the victims of smoking, but is instead investing the money to make sure you and people like you have jobs forever. Is this true?”
Cheryl mumbled with my sweaty sock in her mouth. “Just nod your head, yes or no.” Cheryl hesitated then nodded, “yes.”
“Is it ‘Truth’ you spent over $200 million in ads while the pain and suffering of millions in the street and in hospitals without food, housing or health care went without address.”
Cheryl nodded hesitantly.
“I know it was a loaded question, Cheryl, but I still convict you of being a leech! You and those like you are a cancerous leech, sucking up resources and giving back nothing but waste!”
Drano brings over a packet of papers. “This is a contract, Cheryl. It says the Foundation will spend the rest of the $1.5 billion on health care for cancer patients and on free nicorette and backrubs for anyone who needs help quitting smoking.”
Cheryl’s eyes got big. “Sign it! Or I’ll let these leeches bleed you dry! A fitting end.” Drano cuts Cheryl’s hand free and she signs quickly. I pull my sock out of her mouth and remind her, “No more ads. You’ll be doing a great service to public health by that rule alone.”
Cheryl said nothing. The blood loss was making her faint.
“Cut her loose and put those leeches in Cheryl’s briefcase,” I tell T-Bone. “We have an appointment with some Enron lobbyists in 15 minutes.”
Daily Friday editor and Leech Lancer David Downs boils with rage every Wednesday here, on the opinions page.