Here's yet another list that Texas finds itself at the bottom of: the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' report of how states have been spending (or not spending) the money they've been receiving from the landmark 1998 multibillion-dollar settlement with Big Tobacco.
Texas comes in at 46, spending $12.6 million on tobacco prevention and cessation programs, compared to the estimated $2.06 billion collected each year from settlement payments and tobacco taxes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that Texas spend $266.3 million each year on antismoking campaigns. (FYI — Alaska is ranked 1; South Carolina is 50.)
There's one thing the report fails to mention, though: Texas might be able to get away with spending just .06 percent of its settlement-and-taxes coffer on antismoking, because the Texas State Department of Health and Human Services has employed the services of a cartoon duck to tell kids that "smoking is foul."
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
And if there's anything that teenagers respond positively to, it's anthropomorphic mallards.
According www.ducktexas.com, the campaign was born in 2000, when about 100 teens gathered in Conroe for a "Statewide Tobacco Education Program Summit." After extensive brainstorming, these best and brightest came up with the concept of a talking duck, whom they named DUCK. (No explanation is given for why his name is written in all caps). Per the web site, DUCK, who is described as "hip" and "fun-loving," is a response to Joe Camel — which R.J. Reynolds had ditched three years prior.
It's too bad Joe is no longer around, because he would've been a perfect foil for DUCK — the Skeletor to his He-Man, the Destro to his G.I. Joe. But in the battle for the hearts and lungs of Texan teens, who would've had the upper hand?
• Joe Camel: Varies: Often seen in bomber jackets and sport coats, but has been known to wear tuxedos. Always wearing sunglasses.
• DUCK: Only seen in cargo shorts and a red, white and blue jersey for an unknown sporting franchise. Like Joe, he wears sunglasses. Also wears a gray wool cap, ostensibly to hide male-pattern baldness.
• Joe Camel: Pool, poker, saxophone. Joe is also a pilot and has an impressive collection of motorcycles and vintage cars.
• DUCK: Can ride a flying skateboard.
• Joe Camel: Joe travels light. Mostly seen alone; otherwise, he's in the company of gorgeous, bosomy women.
• DUCK: Friends include Sci-Fi Duck, whose favorite saying is "Sci-Fi's da bomb, yo"; Ricky, a 13-year-old boy who likes to "hang out with the gang"; and Jen, a freckle-faced, midriff-baring 12-year-old girl whose only hobby is instant-messaging, and who is often seen holding a bowl of popcorn.
• Joe Camel: None. Everybody likes Joe.
• DUCK: Slim Shakey, a sweaty, emaciated, cross-eyed 21-year-old pizza-delivery man whose smoking habit has somehow given him severe acne; Mutant Rat, a three-eyed, seven-foot-tall, 300-lb. green rodent who works as a "tobacco tester" in a laboratory; Dusty, a yellow-eyed, gray-skinned 22-year-old who plays football for the Smokers, and whose favorite saying is "I'm (cough, cough) open!!"
• Joe Camel: Joe is a man (er, camel) of action, not words.
• DUCK: "You know it messes you up, and you know it can shut down your love life"; "Next thing you know, you're hooked, and stealing cigarettes from your mom's purse or picking up butts from the street for one last puff – yo, that's nasty!"; "Every time one of you starts smoking, Big Tobacco goes 'cha-ching!'"
• Joe Camel: Nicotine addiction.
• DUCK: Possible pedophilia. One TV spot shows DUCK and friends — including a boy named Jimmy — at "DUCK Headquarters," watching a live feed of a girls' slumber party, made possible by a cache of cameras he has secretly installed in the hostess's parents' living room. Clad in their pajamas, the girls talk about how gross the boys at school who smoke are. But when the girls collectively coo over nonsmoker Jimmy, DUCK pats the boy on the back and says, "Ya feelin' it, Jimmy?"
We are not making any of this up, unfortunately. — Craig Malisow
Yes, You Can — Make a Giant Obama Head
It's pretty easy to guess what was going through the minds of most Houstonians after Barack Obama was elected. When would David Adickes get to work on his 7,000-pound concrete-and-steel Barack Obama head?
The answer: the very next day. All he's got so far is a model — in truth, one that doesn't much look like the president-elect yet — but give the man a few months. Adickes says the head should be done at least by early spring. "I could possibly get it done by inauguration," he tells Hair Balls. "I'm gonna try, but it's a lot of work."
He'd like to get a meeting with Obama so he can photograph his head from all angles. Bush Sr. posed for him, and it was a big help. In the meantime, he's using photographs for the project — and Abe Lincoln's head for a little inspiration.
Whether or not he gets his session with the next president's real head, Adickes feels confident his sculpture, which will end up with the rest of Adickes's heads at Presidential Park & Gardens at WaterLights in Pearland, will capture Obama.
"I'll get him," he says. "I'll get the resemblance." — Cathy Matusow
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.