by William Severini Kowinsky
I could barely speak.
I was having lunch with the young editor-publisher of the In Pittsburgh alternative weekly in the summer of '89. As a contributing editor and a regular columnist, I had always written about anything I wanted, exactly as I wanted, and smoking was one of my recurring subjects, though by no means the dominant one. But I knew immediately I couldn't change his mind. He was already committed.
"We can't run any more stories on smoking," he said with a slight sigh. "They made that pretty clear before I took the ads."
The In Pittsburgh weekly was taking ads from both Philip Morris, creators of the Marlboro man, and RJR Nabisco, the makers of Salem cigarettes. It was Salem that demanded a ban on smoking stories, and the company's ads were the most extensive and lucrative. Their campaign was called "Salem SoundWaves," consisting of ads, advertorials and public relations events, all aimed at young fans of the newest rock music.
One night, while pondering what to do, I went to hear a band I knew at a club I frequented and had even sung at myself, doing Buddy Holly for their Halloween event "Night of the Singing Dead." As I entered, a smiling young woman in a green and white cheerleading outfit handed me a card to fill out – a chance for a prize, she said – and a small pack of Salem cigarettes. I looked around and saw Salem banners, Salem balloons, more young women and men in clean Salem green and white outfits and more Salem cigarettes at every table.
After the band's first set, a prominent local DJ pulled a few cards and gave away the prizes – Salem sweatshirts and other logo merchandise. I retreated to the bar. "Isn't this awful," I said to someone I knew. "Why" he said. "This is a national company sponsoring a local band. That's pretty impressive, isn't it?"
Hearing of my dismay a few days later, In Pittsburgh's art director came to me with her misgivings. The literal centrepiece of...