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Tobacco Firm's $1-Million Grant Debated in D.C.

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The District of Columbia Board of Education is set to consider this week the morality of accepting a $1-million grant from the tobacco conglomerate Philip Morris Company.

In almost two weeks of wrangling over the corporate gift, some members of the board have argued that accepting it could be perceived as an endorsement of cigarette smoking.

The issue has surfaced at a time of growing concern over the high rate of smoking-related deaths among Washington's black population, as well as anger nationally over cigarette manufacturers' efforts to entice young blacks and women to smoke.

In a preliminary vote held March 21, board members voted 6 to 5 to refer the matter back to the "committee of the whole," which is a term used to denote an informal meeting of the board itself. That session, scheduled for April 2, is intended, officials said, to resolve the "moral question" of using money from cigarette sales to help educate students in Washington schools.

If the gift is approved in this week's meeting, the matter would go before the board again for a final vote.

The grant would finance learning centers at several Washington schools chosen as sites to implement a school-improvement model created by the Yale University child psychiatrist James P. Comer.

In leading the effort to block acceptance of the gift, Eugene Kinlow, a board member, has argued that it would be hypocritical to ask students not to smoke and then accept money from a major cigarette producer.

A similar argument has been made by anti-smoking forces at the downtown campus of George Washington University, which early last month asked Philip Morris to change the name of its Virginia Slims tennis tournament, held on campus.

Supporters of the Philip Morris grant, among them the board's chairman, Nate Bush, and School Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins, have argued, however, that rejecting the money would only penalize the district's students. They have also maintained that acceptance of the grant is not tantamount to promoting the consumption of tobacco products.

One possible solution, suggested Mr. Bush's education specialist, Kimberly Edley, might be to "take some funds from the grant and use it for anti-smoking education."--jw

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