Murray boy takes History Day project to national competition

Sam Skinner and his award-winning website

Sam Skinner and his award-winning website

When the U.S. Surgeon General report confirmed the health dangers of cigarette smoking in 1964, tobacco manufacturers responded with counter-advertising campaigns: “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette,” “20,679 physicians say Luckies are less irritating,” “L&M filters are just what the doctor ordered!”

False advertising and misrepresented tobacco research were part of what spurred Minnesota Attorney General Skip Humphrey to launch a lawsuit against tobacco giant Philip Morris in the 1990s. Murray sixth-grader Sam Skinner’s research and resulting website on the state’s 1998 landmark lawsuit, State of Minnesota v. Philip Morris Inc., won first place in the Minnesota State History Day competition and fifth place at the national competition at the University of Maryland in June. Skinner also was awarded $500 from Minnesota’s Laws and Courts— Minnesota Supreme Court Historical Society.

The son of Catherine and Matt Skinner of St. Anthony Park, Skinner headed to Washington, D.C., on June 11 with his teacher, Courtney Major. His mom joined him a couple of days later.

He is the third Murray student to go to the national competition since the school began participating in the research competition a decade ago. Page Norman, an eighth-grader at the time, advanced to Washington, D.C., in 2007 and Jillian Brenner, who just finished eighth grade at Murray, competed last year at nationals.

Skinner is also the second in his family to go to the national competition. His sister Miranda competed in the website category when she was a seventh-grader at Capitol Hill Magnet School. Miranda was a big help to him, he said.

Skinner’s project, “Encountering the Truth: State of Minnesota v. Philip Morris,” explores the rise of the tobacco industry, advertising campaigns, the Minnesota lawsuit and its lasting impact.

“I was surprised to see the conduct of the tobacco industry, all the information they concealed,” Skinner said. “They protected their own interests even up to the trial. I was also surprised by the lack of action taken by other states and groups.” The tobacco industry was a politically powered industry, he said. “They did a lot of donations toward political nominees. If you went after the tobacco industry and failed, it could wreck your political career. The Minnesota lawsuit was groundbreaking.”

You can see Skinner’s website at National History Day is an interdisciplinary research project for students in grades 6-12. Students can choose to write a paper or create an exhibit, documentary, performance or website.

The Minnesota Historical Society and the University of Minnesota sponsor the competitions in Minnesota. Students at Murray begin with a school competition in early spring. Winners there advance to a regional competition, and winners there advance to the state competition held each May at the University of Minnesota. The state competition winners advance to the national one in Washington, held each year in June.

1 Response

  1. Rebecca Finken

    Sam, this is impressive. I am a cousin to your Dad, and am so glad to have you in our family. Keep up the good work. This is important work and you seem to have the tickets. Hope we can meet someday.

    Rebecca (Becky to your parents and grandma Betsey)

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