Letters to the editor for 6/9

June 09, 2002

School cola endorsements a sticky issue

To the editor:

As described in your newspaper week before last, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have made competing offers of money and other incentives to Smithsburg High School if the school will cut a deal allowing one of them to become the sole provider of soft drinks in the 760-student school. The question is, who among the three parties involved (i.e., the chosen company, the public school, and the targeted students) wins, and who loses?

The cola companies are obviously in this to make money, not give it away. They know this is a proven marketing strategy that will convert some predictable percentage of the students, year after year, into life-long, preferably heavy consumers of their soft-drink products. So for them it's a big win for a miniscule investment.

The school would get some much needed money, nice-to-have scoreboards (read electronic advertising billboards) and other perks in return for hawking the products to the students and giving exclusive target-market access to the chosen company. So clearly it's a win for the school as long as nobody objects to the "anything for a buck" message it arguably delivers.


For the targeted students, however, things are more complicated. They will admittedly get to enjoy and perhaps benefit from the school's compensation package, but they and their families will also, of course, collectively shell out tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars each year as they pay full price to substitute the company's products for milk and tap water. And as for the students who become the real "success stories" under this company/school partnership (i.e., new life-long, heavy consumers of the company's soft drinks), they will be at risk of experiencing obesity, tooth decay, osteoporosis and other health problems associated with heavy soft-drink consumption. So for the students - who, after all, are supposed to be the top priority here - the proposed deals are a mixed bag, at best.

In my view, public schools have no business marketing or promoting anything other than education.

But if Smithsburg High School wants to consider these offers, it should also consider this idea for a decision making process: Because the students will be the most directly impacted party due to their exposure to the proposed advertising, the amount of money they will spend on soft drinks, the potential enhancements to their school and the potential harm to their health, they - the students - should decide the issue or at least recommend a decision.

The school should sponsor a debate or panel discussion with time allotted for Q&A where pro/con cola company representatives, medical experts, parents, teachers and students could debate and discuss this issue in front of the student body. (Publication, distribution and discussion of an issue paper could be a reasonable alternative to a public debate.) Then let the students vote on whether the school should pursue these deals. The students would learn a lot about persuasive speaking (or writing), school budget issues, diet, health, creative marketing strategies and their age-group's unsolicited role as today's most-wanted, must-have market "demographic." That would be an education in itself.

Jim Lemon


Democrats, keep an open mind on Ehrlich

To the editor:

I write to encourage Democrats and Independents to fairly consider the candidacy of Congressman Robert Ehrlich as Governor of the State of Maryland.

From a blue-collar background in Baltimore County, in 1979 Bob Ehrlich graduated from Princeton University, which he attended on an academic scholarship. While at Princeton he wascaptain of the Princeton University football team.

In 1982 he earned a law degree from Wake Forest University and joined a Baltimore law firm. He served with distinction as a member of the Maryland General Assembly from 1986 to 1994 where he was widely regarded by both Democrats and Republicans as a moderate, reasonable and capable legislator. For the last seven years he has been a member of the US House of Representatives. By announcing his candidacy for governor, Bob Ehrlich is giving up what virtually all observers deem a secure seat in Congress.

As a Maryland delegate, Bob Ehrlich was regarded as a legislator of exceptional ability and integrity. The citizens of Washington County need go no farther than to ask those legislators who served in Maryland's House of Delegates when Robert Ehrlich served with them to confirm his reputation for competence, honor and integrity.

You needn't take the word of a Republican for this proposition; ask a Democrat who has known and worked with Bob Ehrlich whether he would be good for the State of Maryland and for the residents of Washington County.

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