Song lyrics could derail state's fight against tobacco

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- A profanity-laced song with a reference to binge drinking played by a band at a state-sponsored anti-tobacco event last year could derail the state's tobacco-prevention initiative.

Rep. Kevin Goodno, R-Moorhead, distributed reprints of the lyrics to a legislative budget committee Friday as Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm prepared to defend the state's anti-tobacco endowment.

House Republicans want to use the endowment to reduce the state's deficit. Goodno said his staff alerted him to songs he said were sung at the October event.

The band, Alkaline Trio, is a punk group from Chicago whose music typically runs heavy on obscenities and references to heavy drinking and drugs.


In addition, in an interview last June with posted on the band's Web site, vocalist and guitarist Matt Skiba attributed his gritty voice to "all the cigarettes I smoke and beer I drink."

Included in the lyrics was:

"I need a beer to wash it all away without a trace. And then I'll drink 23 more to wipe this stupid smile off my (expletive) face."

Goodno said that while he was dismayed by the profanity, he was far more disturbed by the references to heavy drinking. "The campaign, as I understand it, is aimed not just at tobacco but at alcohol and drug abuse," he said. "We're sending inconsistent messages if we tell kids 'don't smoke,' but the band that's hired tells them it's OK to drink 23 beers."

Malcolm said she knew nothing about the band's lyrics or its reputation before it was paid $5,000 to appear at Kick Ash Bash II, which drew 400 teens representing every county in Minnesota. The St. Cloud event was put on by Target Market, the organization that coordinates the state's anti-tobacco ad campaign aimed at 12-to 17-year-olds.

Several teens involved in Target Market also testified before the committee, defending the program and saying the fuss over the band's lyrics should not jeopardize the group's funding.

The ad campaign uses $6.5 million of the $21 million generated in interest from the tobacco-prevention endowment and claims a 25 percent reduction in teen smoking over two years.

House Republicans want to use $325 million of the endowment -- the amount of principal that funds tobacco prevention -- to reduce the state's deficit. Such a move would remove funding for the state's anti-tobacco efforts, although money for some local efforts would remain.


Goodno said that in its zeal to reach young people, Target Market "may have lost its focus."

Malcolm, who has spent years fending off attempted raids on the tobacco-prevention endowment, said that there should be better screening for Target Market events, but didn't think the program should suffer.

"I would hate for this to be the reason to undo the program," she said. "Does what happened today show the need for serious and careful review and change? I think it does. We need to make sure all our messages are mutually reinforcing."

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