Altria Theater is sponsored by a mass murderer

Morgan White
Opinion Editor

Illustration by Erin Bushnell

It’s not so much about the $1.75 million that CenterStage Richmond, a nonprofit group that is renovating Altria Theatre for profit, owes taxpayers. It’s more so about the way that the theater’s renovations were paid for.

In February of last year, the theater changed its name from the Landmark Theater to the Altria Theater after Altria Group, Inc. gave CenterStage Richmond a $10 million gift in order to help the performing arts group pay for renovations.

What you and I call part of Monroe Park Campus are very likely to be two separate things.

While Altria Theater may not bear the name of VCU on its back, the fact is that across the street sits a VCU parking garage, a garage where theater goers pay to make use of visitor parking. It’s not only that, say you live at the Gladding Residence Center or commute and park at the Main St. Parking Deck, to walk to classes at Hibbs, Temple, or the library, you have to walk past the theater.

It’s not about the lights or the economical affect that this has on the area or how it seems like the sidewalk ends up being closed almost every other week. The problem is this: Altria Group, Inc. is the parent company of Phillip Morris USA, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company and Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. The brands that come out of Altria are: Marlboro, Copenhagen, Skoal, Black & Mild and Virginia Slims.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2015 there will be close to 221,000 new cases of lung cancer and about 39,500 new cases of oral or oropharyngeal cancer (cancer that begins in the mouth or throat). During the same time ACS estimates that nearly 160,000 people will die from lung cancer and 7,500 people will die of oral or oropharyngeal cancer. Chewing tobacco and cigarettes increase the likeliness of both types of cancers.

According to the Center for Disease Control, smokers are up to 30 times more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer than those who don’t smoke. ACS states that while chewing tobacco kills less people than cigarette smoking, it still “hurts and kills people all the same.”

The information above is what prompted our government to pass the Federal Cigarette Labelling and Advertising Act in 1984, the law which requires all packages of cigarettes to have the Surgeon General’s health warning.

It’s also what prompted the 1997 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, an agreement entered into by four of the major tobacco companies in the U.S. including Phillip Morris Inc., R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and Lorillard. The agreement was what enabled these companies to get out of a plethora of lawsuits with 46 states if the tobacco companies agreed to pay a sum of money to the states in order to help pay for medical costs necessary to care for people with smoking-related illnesses.

The agreement also banned outdoor billboards and advertising on transit vehicles as well as restricting tobacco companies’ ability to sponsor events, partake in sports marketing or make promotional products. Phillip Morris Inc. was rebranded as Altria Group, Inc. in 2003. A large part of why this agreement was made was to keep tobacco companies from targeting the youth.

A sponsor is a person or organization that pays for some or all of a sporting or artistic event and in return receives advertising. The name and logo of Altria is written all over the theater. Even driving down Belvidere Street, the same name and logo are directing you to turn at Main Street in order to arrive at the theater. We are being advertised to subconciously support Altria even though they’re responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths due to lung or oral cancer.

It’s not too far out of line to say that some extra-legal practices are taking place here, even more so since the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was passed in 2010, a law which restricts tobacco company advertising even further and bans flavored cigarettes. Altria is sponsoring this theater. This theater has several events, during which all theater goers are drenched in the light of the lit up Altria logo.

A majority of students’ support for this theatre is more than likely because they don’t know what the company is that has sponsored these renovations. Tobacco isn’t being advertised, no. But why isn’t it against the law for the company itself to advertise or sponsor a theater in this way?

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