Syndic No.43 ~ Table of Contents
Syndic Literary Journal

Syndic No.43 ~ Thing on my Chest

Thing On My Chest

Written and Narrated by Roger Netzer

Connecticut

Thing On My Chest — An Invective (with footnotes)

In memoriam Judy Stevens

The library, which we used to call the library,

is called Tisch Hall now.

The name change honors benefaction

that Jonathan Tisch’s family poured

onto the Connecticut prep school

 where Jon and I were schoolmates

 back in the 1970s.

 

The Tisch dynastic brand can be seen

 round New York, too: hospital wing here,

 university library there. And on book covers:

Jon, in addition to running

the family conglomerate, writes bestsellers:

The Power of WE: Success Through Partnering

and Citizen YOU: Doing Your Part to Save the World.

 

He was a nice boy back when I knew him.

Well brought-up, friendly, and unpretentious.

Not spoiled. His pleasing homeliness

(he has since matured to near handsome)

 was offset by a clownish grin he dispensed generously.

Impossible not to like.

 

So what if his folks owned Lorillard,

America’s third largest tobacco company?

The Lorillard jingles were great.

The one for Newport (my big sister’s smoke,

and the company’s top-selling brand) went

Keep your pleasure fresh keep smoking Newport

filter cigarettes, Newport filter cigarettes! ♫

 

My sister took up Newports at fourteen,

consistent with Lorillard’s strategic recognition

that ‘the base of our business

 is the high school student.’ (1)

 

In the decades before they bought Lorillard,

Jon’s dad Preston and uncle Laurence

 had made a fortune in the less lethal enterprises

 of hotel and theatre chains.

By 1968, the time had come to diversify.

Controversy about the health risk of cigarettes

had depressed Lorillard’s share price,

so the Tisches were able to buy it for a song,

 way less than what the enormous annual revenues justified. (2)

 

The gamble paid off big-time.

Not without cost to the family, though.

Forty years and ten billion

 in profits later, it turned out

 the whole Tisch family had felt ‘discomfort’

owning a tobacco company.

 

But why?  After all, the Tisches ‘believed

 nicotine was not addictive.’

That’s what cousin Andy swore in 1994

when, as Lorillard’s chairman and chief executive –

 the torch having passed

to a younger generation of Tisches –

 it fell to Andrew to testify, under oath,

to the Congress of the United States. (4)

 

Besides, addictive or not, smoking was not fatal.

Asked by Congressman Henry Waxman (D. California)

whether cigarettes caused cancer, Andrew swore,

 ‘I do not believe that.’ (5)

 

(Do you believe, reader,

that Andrew did not believe that?)

 

Congressman Waxman, who served in Congress

for half-a-century, pressed his question.

‘Do you understand how isolated you are

from the scientific community in your belief?’

 

‘I do, sir,’ Andrew replied. (6)

 

Still, that was a little too much heat.

The Tisches began to sell off their interest

in tobacco. Slowly, over more than a decade.

They did not want to tank the share price

by dumping the company’s stock in one fell swoop.

 That way, the Tisch four-decade swim

 in the ever-gushing revenue stream

could continue.

 

My family passed milestones, too.

 In 1966 a heart attack killed my dad,

who enjoyed smoking Kents (Lorillard again!),

Kent with the micronite filter. ♫

I gave up Marlboro (Philip Morris, now Altria)

in 1987. My sister Judy shook her Newport habit

in 2004 by dying of lung cancer.

 

No Tisch was dumb enough to smoke,

so they never witnessed the grave

 unpretty effects up close.

But they faced challenges of their own.

Every year, they had to read and adopt

the annual corporate business plans.

 

These business plans addressed an economic conundrum

peculiar to the tobacco industry:

Habitual use of the product

caused many consumers to leave the customer base

 prematurely and permanently.

 

So every year the Tisches —

advised, naturally, by top scientists

 and marketing consultants –

would implement a strategies

solving the perennial problem:

Where would the company find new customers

to replace the former customers?

 

Lorillard found emerging markets

to fill the gaps. The dead suckers’ children

 — well, all children — were a fertile demographic

 to cultivate and farm. And there were generations

 still unborn to be harvested when the time came.

Market elasticity, it’s called.

 

By facing these uncomfortable realities, the

Tisches surmounted them.

But the day finally arrived

to cash out for good. Come 2008,

 the family sold off its remaining piece of Lorillard.

From then on, they were spared the discomfort

of exploiting, and causing, ill — ill at a level

to make your typical genocidal mass murderer

look like a piker.

 

Hyperbole? 480,000 deaths from smoking

 in the U.S. alone. Annually. Still.

 

But it is years since the Tisches

made their tobacco fortune.

The former customers have disappeared

 into memory and what lies beyond memory.

 The family’s generous philanthropy

has dimmed the spotlight on their murderous history.

Doing their part to save the world,

the Tisch family enters its future

assured of respectability and power and prestige.

 

They flourish.

 

But before the curtain descends

for good on the old days, the fake names

I had planned to use are out,

and the real ones are in.

I owe my sister Judy that much.

 

Envoi

 

May the ghosts of those who forked over

good money for Newport, Kent, and Old Gold

rise from the populous earth. Guide them,

O Vengeance, past the doormen and nannies

guarding the well-appointed nurseries

 of all born into the Tisch family.

Shadows, haunt their dreams!

But I confess a soft spot for the winning boy

I once knew, so give dispensation

to Jon, to his pretty wife, and to his kids

 and grand-kids down the line.

 

One last thing, Dark Faced One.

When you muster the spectral legion

To its mission of justice, for my sake

Excuse two phantoms from the ranks:

my sister (Newports, see above)

and dad (Kents like I said)

Don’t make them haunt the wrongdoers.

I witnessed both earn, the hard way,

their right to wreak a fearful revenge,

 but grant them rest.

 

____________

 

(1) Memo from executive T. L. Achey to Lorillard President Curtis Judge 1regarding Newport brand, August 30, 1978. It took nearly forty years for Lorillard to disclose the memo — under compulsion — in the case of United States v. Philip Morris, 116 F.Supp.2d 131 ( D.D.C. 2000). Judge Gladys Kessler’s 1,683-page opinion finally brought Achey’s memo to light. {page cite}

 

(2) Stephanie Saul, Profits in Hand, Wealthy Family Cuts Tobacco Tie, 2N.Y. Times, June 11, 2008.

 

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