Tag Archives: big business

What’s in, what’s out and what’s offensive this Halloween

Halloween used to be for children, but adults’ interest in continuing the fun of their youth has turned the holiday into a huge event — and moneymaker. Grownups also have turned the  outré holiday into one that strains the limits of acceptable taste and behavior, and each year ups the ante.

Estimates of what consumers spent last Halloween are as high as $11.4 billion, when you combine the costs of costumes, decorations and candy, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Helping to push the popularity of Halloween are the pop-up stores that arrive everywhere out of nowhere each fall, just before the leaves start to turn. They take over high-profile but abandoned retail spaces like demons invading bodies on the CW series Supernatural.

Operated by companies such as Halloween Express and Spirit Halloween, they give what once was the eve of All Saints Day a boost in visibility. They also provide tempting opportunities to find something clever to wear for busy adults who don’t have the time or talent to make their own costumes.

Spirit Halloween, a chain of more than 1,150 pop-up shops across the country, typifies the strategy and has honed it to a science. The company crams an impressive amount of business into a short amount of time. The staff swells from the hundreds to more than 20,000 starting in June and the company makes its revenue for the year in less than three months. The typical store takes six days to set up, opening Aug. 21 and closing Nov. 1.

“We are equivalent to an army operation in terms of the way we mobilize and move products,” says Steven Silverstein, CEO of the New Jersey-based company.

Although pop-up stores have been around for decades, they exploded when retailers got the idea of short-term rentals for holidays like Halloween and Christmas. Spirit Halloween was launched in 1983, as the holiday’s focus was evolving from children and trick-or-treating to parties for people of all ages, Silverstein says.

Planning for this Halloween began over a year ago. For example, it takes 18 months to design and produce elaborately spooky in-store displays.

Employees scout for locations throughout the year. Merchandise starts rolling into Spirit Halloween’s warehouses in May. By summer, sites have been chosen and, by mid-August, the stores are prepped to receive the goods. Trucks start arriving and the locations go from bare walls and floors to racks and shelves bursting with costumes, accessories, props and home decor.

What’s in?

On a recent gray Sunday afternoon, a clerk at Party City in Brown Deer said girls this year still are asking for costumes based on the 2013 animated film Frozen, demonstrating the deep cultural impact of the movie’s female empowerment story. 

Girls also are expected to choose a lot of costumes based on the Disney TV movie The Descendants, the story of the children of Disney characters such as Cruella De Vil and Cinderella.

For boys, another holdover is expected to dominate — in their case the reptilian superheroes of the 2014 film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Expect to see a lot of Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo and Raphael.

Children love the Turtles, and so do adults who watched them on TV and in movies when they were kids, Silverstein says.

Adult costumes and accessories based on TV shows like The Walking Dead and Orange Is the New Black are expected to sell well. Costumes based on superheroes like The Avengers or Batman will be brisk sellers.

From the political arena, there will be lots of Donald Trumps, Taylor Swifts and even costumes based on anti-gay Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis. In Wisconsin, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a scattering of Scott Walkers slithering about (to download your own Walker mask click here). 

As usual, corsets and skimpy outfits for women are likely to attract a lot of partygoers. Risqué costumes for women are always big Halloween sellers.

For adults with gorier tastes, Halloween fare this year includes bloodied zombies and ghouls and characters from slasher movie classics like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th — proving that when it comes to Halloween, some things never die.

Halloween culture wars

Taken as a group, the most popular costumes donned each year provide something of a cultural snapshot of that moment in time. The most revealing tend to be the politically incorrect.

Given that, every Halloween sparks national arguments over cstumes that reflect current events in ways that are widely considered tasteless.

In the early 1980s, drag queens dressed as Joan Crawford — holding baby dolls and coat hangers — were ubiquitous at gay Halloween parades. That was a cultural response to Christina Crawford’s tell-all memoir and the subsequent movie Mommy Dearest, which chronicled the movie icon’s allegedly brutal maternal skills. 

As critics pointed out at the time, child abuse is not a laughing matter. But that didn’t dampen the Halloween merriment that the book and movie unleashed.

Every Halloween brings a new incarnation of the Halloween culture wars. They heated up early this year. In August, petitions and social media outrage were already flying over a blood-spattered dentist’s smock paired with a Cecil-like lion head and over a replica of Caitlyn Jenner’s cream-colored corset set she wore on the cover of Vanity Fair.

“Trans is not a costume. Even though Caitlyn is a public figure and I could understand someone wanting to celebrate her as a hero and as a public figure, this could definitely take on a transphobic vibe,” said Addison Rose Vincent, an activist who started a Change.org petition asking Spirit Halloween to stop selling the costume, in an interview with Philly Voice.

“We create a wide range of costumes that are often based on celebrities, public figures, heroes and superheroes,” Lisa Barr, a spokeswoman for Spirit Halloween, responded in a statement. “Caitlyn Jenner is all of the above and our Caitlyn-inspired costume reflects just that.”

Is a Halloween costume that can be interpreted as ridiculing transgender people or one that laughs at the illegal butchering of the globally loved lion Cecil any different from Julianne Hough’s wearing of blackface or Prince Harry’s turn as a non-Halloween Nazi?

Richard Lachmann, a professor at the University of Albany who includes Halloween in his sociology of culture course, said costumes seem to be more provocative every year, with equally amped-up backlash. And there’s always a base of people who feel it’s an “irreligious pagan holiday to begin with and are ready to be upset,” he said.

Throw in a heavy dose of gore, loaded parody and ultra-sexy costumes, Lachmann added, and Halloween is now a free-for-all debate on what crosses the line of decency.

But is there a line at all?

“It seems like there isn’t,” he said. “The point for adults is to be provocative, to do something that breaks the lines of what’s considered acceptable.”

Still, one costume was yanked from the shelves of a Party City store in Waukesha for hitting too close to home.

That costume is based on the horror character Slender Man. In May, two 12-year-old girls stabbed a friend  19 times in a delusional attempt to curry favor with the fictional fiend.

When locals spotted the costume in a store just miles from where the girl was stabbed, they protested to the company, which agreed to remove the “Slenderman Partysuit” from local shelves.

“Our thoughts and condolences go out to family and friends of the victim and the entire local community,” store reps said in a statement to NBC 5 Chicago. “The local area stores have pulled the costume in question. Party City sells merchandise and costumes for all types of Halloween customers, and nothing we carry is meant to be offensive.”

The manager of a local Halloween Express also opted to pull the costume from his store, although it’s still available online at both companies’ websites, as well as Spirit Halloween’s website.

To download your Scott Walker mask, click here.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story

Pope Francis to issue encyclical on devastating climate change driven by greed

Anxiety has gripped American conservatives over Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on the environment. So much so that you might think a pope had never before blamed fossil fuels for global warming. Or accused energy companies of hoarding the Earth’s resources at the expense of the poor. Or urged the rich to consume less and share more.

But several of Francis’ immediate predecessors have done just that, inspired by the Bible itself — raising the question of what all the fuss is about. Why would U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, a devout Catholic who says he loves the pope, urge Francis to “leave science to the scientists” and stop talking about global warming? And why would conservative Catholic commentators attack the Vatican for hosting the U.N. secretary-general at a climate conference?

It turns out that environmental issues are particularly vexing for the Catholic Church, especially in the United States. They carry implications for Big Business, often with ties to wealthy Catholics, as well as for the world’s growing population, which brings up questions of birth control. For the religious right, the Vatican’s endorsement of the U.N. alarm about global warming amounts to an endorsement of the U.N. agenda to give women access to contraception and abortion.

How Francis deals with population growth as it affects the environment is one of the key questions that will be answered when the encyclical is released June 18.

Despite such divisive issues, popes in recent decades have not shied from framing ecological concerns in moral terms, given that in the Bible itself God places mankind in the Garden of Eden with the explicit instructions to not only “till” the ground but to also “keep it.”

Recent popes have made clear that human activity is largely to blame for the environmental degradation that is threatening the Earth’s ecosystems. They have demanded urgent action by industrialized nations to change their ways and undergo an “ecological conversion” to prevent the poor from paying for the sins of the rich.

Some have even made their points in encyclicals, the most authoritative teaching document a pope can issue.

Take one of St. John Paul II’s annual messages for the World Day of Peace:

“The gradual depletion of the ozone layer and the related greenhouse effect has now reached crisis proportions as a consequence of industrial growth, massive urban concentrations and vastly increased energy needs,” John Paul wrote. “Industrial waste, the burning of fossil fuels, unrestricted deforestation, the use of certain types of herbicides, coolants and propellant: all of these are known to harm the atmosphere and environment. The resulting meteorological and atmospheric changes range from damage to health to the possible future submersion of low-lying lands.”

The year was 1990, a quarter century ago.

Before him there was Pope Paul VI. In his 1967 encyclical, Popularum Progresso (Development of Peoples), Paul wrote that while creation is for man to use, the goods of the Earth are meant to be shared by all, not just the rich.

“No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when others lack the bare necessities of life,” Paul wrote nearly a half-century ago.

And then there was Pope Benedict XVI, dubbed the “green pope” because he took concrete action to back up his strong ecological calls: Under his watch, the Vatican installed photovoltaic cells on the roof of its main auditorium, a solar cooling unit for its main cafeteria and joined a reforestation project aimed at offsetting its CO2 emissions.

“The fact that some states, power groups and energy companies hoard non-renewable energy resources represents a grave obstacle to development in poor countries,” Benedict wrote in his 2009 encyclical Charity in Truth. “The international community has an urgent duty to find institutional means of regulating the exploitation of non-renewable resources, involving poor countries in the process, in order to plan together for the future.”

In that encyclical, the German theologian, however, addressed the population issue by denouncing mandatory birth control policies and noting that even populous countries have emerged from poverty thanks to the talents of their people, not their numbers. At the same time, though, he stressed “responsible procreation” — a theme Francis is likely to take up himself given that he has already said Catholics need not reproduce “like rabbits.”

So what is so new about Francis’ encyclical?

First, no pope has dedicated an entire encyclical to ecological concerns. And no pope has cited the findings of the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change in a major document, as Francis is expected to do. Francis, history’s first Latin American pope, will also be bringing the point of view of the “Global South” to a social teaching document of the church, which is in itself new.

But on the whole, the church’s environmental message has been articulated for years, though it has gotten lost in other issues.

“To be honest, we have been talking about this but not with enough emphasis,” said the Rev. Agostino Zampini Davies, the Argentine theological adviser to CAFOD, the development agency of the Catholic Church of England and Wales.

Zampini Davies recently made a power-point presentation to the church’s global Caritas aid agencies outlining what each pope and bishops’ conference has said about the environment for the past half-century, a remarkable compilation that could have saved Francis’ ghost-writers time and effort in drafting the encyclical.

Zampini noted that the 2004 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, a massive undertaking by the Vatican to pull all the church’s social teachings in one book, gave scant attention to the environment — “a missed opportunity” Zampini Davies said that Francis is now correcting with an even more authoritative document.

Amid the alarm that Francis will go far beyond what past popes have said, U.S. Cardinal Donald Wuerl recently addressed a conference of business and church leaders on how sustainable actions can drive the economic growth needed to lift people out of poverty

“The teaching of Pope Francis and his efforts to address the environment are in harmony with those of his predecessors,” he insisted.

Wal-Mart’s push on animal welfare hailed as game changer

UPDATED: Walmart, the nation’s largest food retailer, announced in May its commitment to improving animal welfare throughout its supply chain and issued revised animal welfare policies hailed as game-changing.

Even some of the company’s harshest critics, including the watchdog group Mercy for Animals, cheered the policy change as signaling a new era.

The “Position on Farm Animal Welfare” posted on Walmart’s corporate site states, “We expect that our suppliers will not tolerate animal abuse of any kind.”

The statement says Walmart supports the “Five Freedoms” of animal welfare outlined by the World Organization for Animal Health:

• Freedom from hunger and thirst.

• Freedom from discomfort.

• Freedom from pain, injury or disease.

• Freedom to express normal behavior.

• Freedom from fear and distress.

The company wants suppliers of fresh and frozen meat, deli, dairy and eggs to take action against animal abuse, adopt the “Five Freedoms,” avoid subjecting animals to painful procedures, such as tail docking, de-horning and castration, and to use antibiotics only to treat or prevent disease.

Walmart also wants suppliers to stop using pig gestations crates and other housing that confines animals to small spaces.

At the Humane Society of the United States, president and CEO Wayne Pacelle said, “Timelines aside, this announcement helps create an economy where no agribusiness company — for business reasons alone — should ever again install a new battery cage, gestation crate or veal crate. Walmart is helping drive the transition away from immobilizing cages and other inhumane practices and toward a more humane, more sustainable approach to production agriculture.”

He continued, “This is an unstoppable trend and that was the trajectory even before Walmart made the announcement. The company’s embrace of a more ethical framework for the treatment of all farm animals serves as perhaps the most powerful catalyst for change throughout animal agriculture.”

Mercy for Animals president Nathan Runkle said, “This is a historic and landmark day for the protection of farmed animals in America.”

Mercy has waged a multi-year campaign against Walmart — the company accounts for about 25 percent of the U.S. food business. The Mercy effort has involved protests, publicity in major newspapers and on mobile billboards, celebrity denunciations and a petition via Change.org.

In recent years, Mercy has released investigative video documenting extreme animal abuse by Walmart suppliers. The videos show pigs hit with metal cans and sheets of wood and sows held in cages so small they could barely move.

Mercy, in its praise for the Walmart position statement, also emphasized its own position: The best way to prevent animal abuse is to stop eating animals.

Charting change

Major animal-welfare moves announced by food and retail companies since 2012:

• FEBRUARY 2012: McDonald’s Corp. requires U.S. pork suppliers to outline plans to phase out sow gestation stalls.

• AUGUST 2014: Nestle says it wants to get rid of the confinement of sows in gestation crates and egg-laying chickens in cages. It also wants to eliminate the cutting of the horns, tails and genitals of farm animals without painkillers and pledges to work with suppliers on the responsible use of antibiotics.

• DECEMBER 2014: Starbucks supports the responsible use of antibiotics, eliminating the use of artificial growth hormones and wants to address concerns related to de-horning and other forms of castration — with and without anesthesia.

• MARCH 2015: McDonald’s says it is asking chicken suppliers to curb the use of antibiotics. 

• APRIL 2015: Aramark, the largest U.S. food-service company, says it’s eliminating all cages for laying hens by 2020, gestation crates for mother pigs by 2017 and crates for veal calves by 2017.

• APRIL 2015: Tyson Foods plans to eliminate the use of antibiotics medically important to humans in its U.S. broiler chicken flocks by the end of September 2017. The company has also said it’s working on ways to curb use of antibiotics for its beef and chicken businesses.

— Associated Press

Petition targets Walton Foundation push to privatize schools

Labor and education. Both were on the minds of Americans with the three-day holiday weekend that commemorates Labor Day and signifies the end of summer and the start of a new school year.

So the AFL-CIO figured it was a great time to take on the push by Wal-Mart’s owners to privatize — or corporatize — U.S. education.

In late August, Elizabeth Bunn, director of organizing for the AFL-CIO, urged labor advocates to sign a petition at aflcio.org to “keep Wal-Mart out of our classrooms,” and she wasn’t referring to the school supplies purchased for students at the discount store.

“Back to school isn’t the most fun time of year, but it is especially hard for teachers and students when you have billionaire families like the Wal-Mart-owning Waltons gearing up to use their billions to attack public education and shift much-needed resources to for-profit corporate schools,” Bunn said, appealing for petition signatures. “The Waltons have spent more than $1 billion on their corporate-style education scheme that’s opposed commonsense proposals like giving all kids access to free public pre-K education.”

The concern of the AFL-CIO and many progressive groups is that the Walton family is investing heavily in creating charter schools, promoting voucher systems that transfer taxpayer dollars to private schools, pushing policies drafted through the American Legislative Exchange Council and funding campaigns for conservative candidates from local school boards to the governor’s mansion.

Several years ago, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism documented the influence of Wal-Mart heirs on the 2010 election — six members of the family, none of them residents of the state, were among the top 10 individual contributors to winning state legislative candidates as Republicans took control of the government.

After taking office, Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP majority cut public school funding by $800 million over two years, allocated $17 million over two years to voucher programs and rolled back collective bargaining rights for public union employees.

Estimates suggest that since 2000, the Walton Family Foundation has put about $1 billion into initiatives that promote a corporate-friendly model of education, making Wal-Mart the largest funder of charter schools in the nation. 

The foundation, in 2013, invested millions to mold education policy — money went to the Black Alliance for Educational Options, the right-wing Alliance for School Choice, the New Teacher Project and Parent Revolution Inc., according to Inside Philanthropy — and to shape studies that endorse charter school programs.

Progressives’ worry is that the Walton Foundation’s efforts to privatize education are as threatening to public schools as Wal-Mart’s retail stores are to local businesses and Wal-Mart’s personnel policies are to the economic security of its employees.

Numerous studies show that expanding charter schools and school choice increases segregation — by race, ethnicity and income — and jeopardizes the stability of traditional public schools.

On the Web…

http://act.aflcio.org/c/18/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=8964

Franchise group sues to overturn Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance

Hundreds of franchisees are learning they’re not small businesses, at least in the eyes of city government.

A new law that will raise Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 from the current $9.32 gives small businesses more time to phase in the 61 percent increase — seven years versus three for large companies. But franchisees, which have ties to bigger corporations (like restaurant chain Denny’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and Merry Maids) won’t get the reprieve even if they have just a handful of workers.

It’s an issue that could affect thousands more businesses in cities where campaigns for a higher minimum wage are underway. In Chicago, lawmakers have proposed a similar measure that would exempt small businesses but not franchise restaurants. Franchise owners say the laws will sharply increase their payroll costs, and threaten to make them less competitive with independent businesses that won’t have to comply — and that they could be forced to raise prices and cut jobs.

“It’s unfair, arbitrary and discriminatory against franchise owners,” says Steve Caldeira, CEO of the trade group International Franchise Association.

The IFA has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the Seattle law, arguing it violates the U.S. Constitution by treating franchises and other small businesses unequally. The IFA also opposes the law proposed for Chicago and efforts to pass similar laws in other major cities including Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

In the eyes of the U.S. Small Business Administration, franchises are small businesses. Many franchises are owned by people who have at most a few locations. Some owners are corporations that own dozens or even hundreds of restaurants like McDonald’s or Pizza Hut.

It’s the ties to bigger companies – known as franchisors – that supporters of the laws cite as a reason why individual franchise owners shouldn’t get a break.

Franchise owners have advantages the independent owners don’t have – for example, menus and advertising supplied by the franchisor, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement responding to the lawsuit filed June 11, a week after he signed the minimum wage bill into law. His office did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Franchisees counter that they have to pay for the privilege of owning a franchise, and for the services franchisors provide. Chuck Stempler, a plaintiff in the IFA lawsuit, says he pays $400,000 a year in fees to AlphaGraphics for the six printing and marketing businesses he operates in Washington and California. Seattle’s Mayor Murray says franchisees and franchisors should renegotiate those fees so business owners have more money to pay their workers.

Stempler, who has 69 employees at two Seattle franchises, says he’ll have to cut jobs to afford the higher wage. The law will increase his payroll costs between $68,000 and $100,000 a year. His competitors will find it easier to adapt because of how officials have structured the law, he says.

“They are discriminating against a class of independent businesses, legally recognized by the federal government and the state,” says Stempler.

In Chicago, restaurant franchisees are included under the proposed minimum wage law although other businesses with revenue under $50 million would be exempt. Franchisees would have to raise employees’ wages from the current minimum of $8.25 to $15 within two years.

At the restaurant chain Firehouse Subs, the Chicago proposal could lead to customers paying more and getting less service because staffs will be smaller, says Steve Szalinski, a franchisee who also helps new owners get started.

“You could see 10 to 20 percent increases in price,” Szalinski says. “Levels of service plausibly won’t be as good. It would be an enormous challenge.”

The laws could end up costing cities some franchises, says franchising consultant Charlie Magee. Several of his clients decided not to buy franchises in Seattle, and instead are looking in the suburbs or Bellingham, 90 miles north of Seattle, even Oregon, says Magee, who works for the consulting company FranNet.

Some franchisors are also wary about Seattle. The shorter phase-in period is just part of the problem, says Jerrod Sessler, CEO of HomeTask, which has six franchise brands including lawn, handyman and pet grooming services. He won’t encourage prospective buyers to seek Seattle locations.

“If you have a city that is willing to pass this sort of legislation, it erodes a trust that they’re going to make decisions to help businesses grow and prosper,” he says.

Breaking today: Milwaukee and Dane county boards were expected to vote on resolutions regarding asking voters in November about minimum wage in Wisconsin.

Progressives rallying against Supreme Court ruling on campaign donor limits

Progressives across the country were preparing a series of protests against the U.S. Supreme Court ruling today (April 2) striking down in federal law the limits on overall contributions that the biggest of individual donors can make to candidates, parties and PACs.

More than 100 events were expected to take place following the morning announcement from Washington, according to Public Citizen, a progressive national watchdog group.

The ruling builds on the High Court decision in 2010, Citizens United, that cleared the way for corporations to invest in political campaigns.

The ruling today was 5-4 — a predicted split between conservatives and liberals — with the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts.

The Court said the wealthiest contributors in American politics can invest millions into candidate and party coffers. Roberts wrote that the aggregate limits “intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise ‘the most fundamental First Amendment activities;’”

The ruling did not remove limits on individual contributions to a candidate for president or Congress, which currently is $2,600 per election. But Justice Clarence Thomas, who voted with the majority, said in a separate writing that he would have removed all limits on campaign contributions.

In the dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said that the Court’s majority had “eviscerated our nation’s campaign finance laws.”

The case began with a complaint from wealthy Alabama Republican Shaun McCutcheon, who challenged the overall limits imposed on his contributions in a two-year federal election cycle.

Protesters today were planning to rally in Albany, N.Y., under a banner that proclaimed “Big Democracy Is Not For Sale.”

Rallies also were being organized in Washington, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Houston, Tampa, Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Denver.

There also was criticism from the business community. The American Sustainable Business Council, which represents more than 200,000 businesses, said: “The American Sustainable Business Council is deeply disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC. Responsible business owners do not want more money in politics. They are concerned that excessive spending on elections  will continue to tilt the political debate in favor of dominant, legacy industries, which support damaging and unsustainable economic, social, and environmental policies.”

At the AFL-CIO, president Richard Trumka called the ruling “one of the most undemocratic and corrosive decisions in history.” 

Trumka said, “By striking down individual aggregate limits on First Amendment grounds, the Court has further tilted our political system in favor of corporations and the wealthy and against working people. Our founding fathers did not intend for our electoral process to be the facade for political auctions.”

In regional reaction, Lisa Subeck of United Wisconsin said the McCutcheon ruling “moves us another step closer to the outright legalization of bribery by allowing the wealthiest donors to pour unlimited amounts of money into the campaign coffers of our elected officials.

“Aggregate campaign finance limits provide a crucial safeguard against the corruption that too often plagues our political system. With today’s ruling, how can the public trust that our decision makers, and the policies they set, are not simply for sale to the highest bidder?”

The same morning that the Supreme Court issued its ruling in McCutcheon, Wisconsinites learned that 13 communities in the state had voted in favor of overturning the 2010 Citizens United ruling. 

Non-binding referendums in support of a federal constitutional amendment on the issue were approved by voters in Waukesha, Wauwatosa, Elkhorn, Delavan, Lake Mills, Edgerton, Shorewood, Whitefish Bay, Waukakee, Belleville, DeForest, Windsor and Waterloo.

More than 40 communities in Wisconsin have backed overturning Citizens.

Subeck said the victories on April 1 “send a clear message to our elected officials in Madison and in Washington that we demand action to overturn Citizens United and restore our democracy.”

Historic smoking report marks 50th anniversary

Fifty years ago, ashtrays seemed to be on every table and desk. Athletes and even Fred Flintstone endorsed cigarettes in TV commercials. Smoke hung in the air in restaurants, offices and airplane cabins. More than 42 percent of U.S. adults smoked, and there was a good chance your doctor was among them.

The turning point came on Jan. 11, 1964. It was on that Saturday morning that U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry released an emphatic and authoritative report that said smoking causes illness and death — and the government should do something about it.

In the decades that followed, warning labels were put on cigarette packs, cigarette commercials were banned, taxes were raised and new restrictions were placed on where people could light up.

“It was the beginning,” said Kenneth Warner, a University of Michigan public health professor who is a leading authority on smoking and health.

It was not the end. While the U.S. smoking rate has fallen by more than half to 18 percent, that still translates to more than 43 million smokers. Smoking is still far and away the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. Some experts predict large numbers of Americans will puff away for decades to come.

Nevertheless, the Terry report has been called one of the most important documents in U.S. public health history, and on its 50th anniversary, officials are not only rolling out new anti-smoking campaigns but reflecting on what the nation did right that day.

The report’s bottom-line message was hardly revolutionary. Since 1950, head-turning studies that found higher rates of lung cancer in heavy smokers had been appearing in medical journals. A widely read article in Reader’s Digest in 1952, “Cancer by the Carton,” contributed to the largest drop in cigarette consumption since the Depression. In 1954, the American Cancer Society announced that smokers had a higher cancer risk.

But the tobacco industry fought back. Manufacturers came out with cigarettes with filters that they claimed would trap toxins before they settled into smokers’ lungs. And in 1954, they placed a full-page ad in hundreds of newspapers in which they argued that research linking their products and cancer was inconclusive.

It was a brilliant counter-offensive that left physicians and the public unsure how dangerous smoking really was. Cigarette sales rebounded.

In 1957 and 1959, Surgeon General Leroy Burney issued statements that heavy smoking causes lung cancer. But they had little impact.

Amid pressure from health advocates, President John F. Kennedy’s surgeon general, Dr. Luther Terry, announced in 1962 that he was convening an expert panel to examine all the evidence and issue a comprehensive, debate-settling report. To ensure the panel was unimpeachable, he let the tobacco industry veto any proposed members it regarded as biased.

Surveys indicated a third to a half of all physicians smoked tobacco products at the time, and the committee reflected the culture: Half its 10 members were smokers, who puffed away during committee meetings. Terry himself was a cigarette smoker.

Dr. Eugene Guthrie, an assistant surgeon general, helped persuade Terry to kick the habit a few months before the press conference releasing the report.

“I told him, ‘You gotta quit that. I think you can get away with a pipe — if you don’t do it openly.’ He said, ‘You gotta be kidding!’ I said, ‘No, I’m not. It just wouldn’t do. If you smoke any cigarettes, you better do it in a closet,”” Guthrie recalled in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

The press conference was held on a Saturday partly out of concern about its effect on the stock market. About 200 reporters attended.

The committee said cigarette smoking clearly did cause lung cancer and was responsible for the nation’s escalating male cancer death rate. It also said there was no valid evidence filters were reducing the danger. The committee also said — more vaguely — that the government should address the problem.

“This was front-page news, and every American knew it,” said Robin Koval, president of Legacy, an anti-smoking organization.

Cigarette consumption dropped a whopping 15 percent over the next three months but then began to rebound. Health officials realized it would take more than one report.

In 1965, Congress required cigarette packs to carry warning labels. Two years later, the Federal Communications Commission ordered TV and radio stations to provide free air time for anti-smoking public service announcements. Cigarette commercials were banned in 1971.

Still, progress was slow. Warner recalled teaching at the University of Michigan in 1972, when nearly half the faculty members at the school of public health were smokers. He was one of them.

“I felt like a hypocrite and an idiot,” he said. But smoking was still the norm, and it was difficult to quit, he said.

The 1970s also saw the birth of a movement to protect nonsmokers from cigarette fumes, with no-smoking sections on airplanes, in restaurants and in other places. Those eventually gave way to complete smoking bans. Cigarette machines disappeared, cigarette taxes rose, and restrictions on the sale of cigarettes to minors got tougher.

Tobacco companies also came under increasing legal attack. In the biggest case of them all, more than 40 states brought lawsuits demanding compensation for the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses. Big Tobacco settled in 1998 by agreeing to pay about $200 billion and curtail marketing of cigarettes to youths.

In 1998, while the settlement was being completed, tobacco executives appeared before Congress and publicly acknowledged for the first time that their products can cause lung cancer and be addictive.

Experts agree that the Terry report clearly triggered decades of changes that whittled the smoking rate down. But it was based on data that was already out there. Why, then, did it make such a difference?

For one thing, the drumbeat about the dangers of smoking was getting louder in 1964, experts said. But the way the committee was assembled and the carefully neutral manner in which it reached its conclusion were at least as important, said Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the same time, he and others said any celebration of the anniversary must be tempered by the size of the problem that still exists.

Each year, an estimated 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and 8.6 million live with a serious illness caused by smoking, according to the CDC.

Donald Shopland finds that depressing.

Fifty years ago, he was a 19-year-old who smoked two packs a day while working as a clerk for the surgeon general’s committee. He quit cigarettes right after the 1964 report came out, and went on to a long and distinguished public health career in which he wrote or edited scores of books and reports on smoking’s effects.

“We should be much further along than we are,” the Georgia retiree lamented.