BEST VILLAIN Minneapolis 2001 -
In order to live up to its name, a villain must simultaneously embody a critical mass of loathing and an undertow of complicity. That disqualifies winter and the mosquito, though not Gov. Jesse Ventura. (But we're not gonna go there.) This past year saw a number of small victories nationwide for consumers against Big Tobacco, but here on the home front the results were a bit more mixed. Last spring Target Market, a teen-led organization funded by Minnesota's multibillion-dollar 1998 settlement with five tobacco companies, unveiled a line of edgy ads that took the industry to task for its atrocities. In July Hennepin County banned smoking within 15 yards of any building entrance on all county property, but that policy was narrower in scope that what had originally been proposed. (Some had wanted to ban smoking on county property entirely and keep workers from smoking in their own autos while on the clock.) In November the Little Falls City Council voted to prohibit smoking in all restaurants--only to see the ban repealed two months later, after citizens successfully garnered enough petition signatures to put the measure to a public vote. Then in February of this year came the ostensibly good news that Big Tobacco's U.S. profits are down--which, paradoxically, may pose a threat to funding for future anti-tobacco programs, since Minnesota's settlement relies on annual payments based on cigarette sales in the U.S. Of course, all along tobacco companies have been moving their operations overseas, driving up profits immune from the lawsuits in this country. In other words, like any good villain, Big Tobacco appears poised to rise again.