Why Sean Marsee STILL Matters

Sean Marsee was from Ada, Oklahoma.   Before his death and the world knew him through his mother Betty’s lawsuit against the tobacco industry or his doctor’s appearance on 60 Minutes, Sean was known as a track star at Talihina High School.  He had won 28 track medals and was given the “Most Valuable Athlete” award.  It is the same award that he held for his last picture before he died the next day.  Those who knew him said that he was so frail and his head so swollen and full of drainage tubes that it was difficult if not impossible for him to hold up his head and pose for his picture.  He wanted to have the picture taken to show other kids what could happen if they chose to use snuff or dip.  He picked up the deadly habit at age 12 after getting free samples of Copenhagen and Skoal.  Sean died at age 19 in 1985, the same year that I graduated from High School in Oklahoma City.

I had not heard his name or thought of Sean Marsee in a long time,  I’m ashamed to say, until Dr. Rodu responded to a question during an October 3, 2012 Interim Study at the State Capitol in OKC. In town to present tobacco industry research, Dr. Rodu’s response was apparently intended to cast doubt on whether Sean’s cancer was a result of snuff usage.

Also speaking at the October 3rd Interim Study was former Indiana Congressman Steve Buyer.   His travel expenses were funded by the tobacco industry.

When Steve Buyer talks about wanting to “help change public health,” we (Oklahomans) should be very, very concerned. When Dr. Rodu tries to tell us that his research shows “snus [products] are very affordable” and that “smokers save money” when using these products to help them quit smoking, we need to remember why Sean Marsee STILL matters.

Betty Marsee lost her two lawsuits against the tobacco industry.  All she was able to achieve were the warning labels that are currently on smokeless tobacco products.  If these two guys, Rodu and Buyer, have it their way, they’d have those warnings removed or weakened.

The tobacco industry and their lobbyists are still working to influence public policy making in Oklahoma. They do not want Oklahoma to restore local rights or for Oklahoma to become smoke-free.  They don’t care about the health of workers in Oklahoma who have to work in smoke-filled environments, like musicians.  They only want to sell a cheap and legal product – a product when used as intended kills.  Now they apparently want to re-write history and cast doubt that Sean Marsee’s cancer was not a direct result of his daily use of snuff since the age of 12.

Last week’s tobacco-industry-funded “Dog and Pony Show” was an attempt to take attention away from our smoke-free efforts.  One Oklahoma Senator attending the Interim Study referred to last year’s bill (HB 2267) as the “misguided preemption bill” while another Senator disputed real science by telling a presenter to “put up or shut up” regarding their facts.

Sean was an athlete.  He was not a musician.  But he was someone’s son.  He was someone’s brother and his story and his mother’s fight against the tobacco industry still matters to this Oklahoman.

- Paula

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