The Peter Kovolsky Letter

Who is Peter Kovolsky?  I recommend that you read Justin Mitchell's article A sales pitch that could save lives in The Standard on January 12, 2006.  Here is the first part:

Entrepreneur Peter Kovolsky's "forte in life is big sales."

These superior salesman's skills, he said, propelled him through three careers in his 55 years, the last as managing director of American English Language Services and Support Group in Hong Kong.  But now Kovolsky is facing the biggest - and last - sales pitch of his life: selling Hong Kong smokers on the dangers of tobacco. Where generic public service ads and cigarette pack label warnings may be met with indifference, Kovolsky has an extra edge because he speaks from experience. A smoker for 35 years, he is dying of lung cancer.

"There's not a life expectancy to speak of," he said matter-of-factly. "If you're very lucky, with my type of cancer [small cell] you might have two years to live. But when I was diagnosed on August 12, I was told I had three weeks to three months. I am an advanced, advanced, advanced case. But I'm going on six months now."

Kovolsky said he had never made a serious attempt at quitting despite a hacking cough and persistent respiratory infections. It was a severe pain in his abdomen that finally sent him to a doctor in August. A CT (computed tomography) scan revealed not gallstones as a doctor initially thought, but a body riddled with tumors.  "There were two pressing against my thorax, two pressing against my liver, one on the left ventricle of my heart and tumors all over my chest, lungs and on my brain," he said.

His decision to become a one-man testament to tobacco's dangers came after some soul-searching.  "I had a lot of free time between chemo treatments," he said. "And I was quite overtaken with the fact that I had killed myself by smoking. I was also reading the papers about pro- tobacco groups trying to block the anti- smoking legislation here."

So he called the health department's stop smoking hotline at the Tobacco Control Office.  "I said I'd been diagnosed with cancer and just wondered if they'd like a spokesman, a man who is dying due to smoking."  Kovolsky's unusual request was forwarded to the health department which will film his testimony and story today for an educational video.  "He's very kind to help us," said a health department spokeswoman. "Peter's advice will be very useful for our future health education efforts."

Unfortunately (and I mean unfortunately), the Peter Kovolsky story has also become a media-related story.  It so happened that Peter Kovolsky was interviewed by Justin Mitchell of The Standard as well as Raymond Ma of the South China Morning Post on the same day.  Here is the widely circulated email that Peter Kovolsky sent after the decision by the South China Morning Post not to report.

Dear Raymond.and the South China Morning Post EDITORS

Dear Colleagues, associates. etcetera.….Following is my disappointing reply to The South China Morning Post replies to me …..
My reply to an enquiry from a reporter……

The Standard met with me later on in the day after your Post interview with me...quite by surprise. 
My initial intention with them was to be in contact with their Chinese group(s) news groups....but somehow they wound up with my info at the English language side..

Well, I’d like to share something….the whole attempt here with the video and anti-smoking campaign is to / was to, get a message to the Chinese people in HK……and not necessarily the white people who constitute a very small population and readership of the English language newspapers in general. 

But although the message is wonderful to get out to expatriates, etc. the primary audience is still – the main society – The Chinese – God Bless them.

Telephone Interruption… am now finished with the enquiry…….speaking with Raymond on his concerns…..


I was in the middle of writing you this email and just received your telephone call regarding the HK Standard’s article about me in today’s edition. Sorry, you were upset.

I am quite taken back though – in fact…very shocked - by your editor's decision that because "The Standard” newspaper did a story in today's edition about me and the anti-smoking campaign ….. and you “The “South China morning Post” did not approve of nor have the story scoop (even after the time we spent in yesterday’s interview ; the story of the anti-smoking campaign’s efforts to create an educational/information video about cancer and smoking and my efforts to assist in however I may……and your preference to discontinue any further interest of the story is shameful..

I would like you to pass this email onto your editor(s) and colleagues and let them know that my motivation and efforts in contacting the anti-smoking campaign health department…and in turn the South China morning Post. as well as other papers, was to possibly assist them in their efforts in towards getting legislation considered and eventually approved; as well as to save lives in Hong Kong and assisting future health care costs in the social welfare schemes of the government.

The motivation was not for me, Peter, to receive any recognition – I look for no recognition nor for any of the newspapers to capture any SENSATIONALISM stories to sell issues and increase subscriber’s numbers.; just simple honest, concerned genuine reporting.

It was all about performing a community service by all of us– in an attempt to assist our government in their attempts to work towards developing education systems for the public on the issues – smoking and cancer. 

The anti-smoking campaign needs all the help that can get in this fight this uphill battle about and against resistant business who unjustly envision financial losses coming, tobacco companies and the like along with influence peddlers and/or lobbyists. The fight against the pro-smokers requires powerful resources and help requiring constant strategic planning, resisting all their attempts.

I think someone at the Post has become miss-guided in its mission and opinions to withdraw any further interest in this matter because other(s) also interested in the story also care to be concerned. I know there are places for Sensation seekers tabloids but I didn’t think this was the Post theme.

Has the Post forgotten their mission and purpose to HK…as they inform and work within a society…Is it about getting the scoop…getting the sensationalism….selling extra copies….or finding difficulty with embarrassment not to have been first on a small story and topic?

The mission should be about informing, positively or negatively, the society, of the governments efforts to make better and strengthen our culture and people effecting change and creativity to the betterment of the whole.

I hope you share this with others in your organization, as I will in my network. I will forward my disappointed message to my friends, colleagues and any interested parties that might find interest and comment as they pass it around to their colleagues and friends too. 

Within the next 24 – 48 hours it should be in front of several thousands reading…considering my words, our thoughts and our opinions. I wish the Post were more involved in being involved….you might sell more papers….and improve your sincerity in the community.

I thank Post for wasting my time in my effort to travel to you and sitting for more than an hour chatting about this entire ordeal.

....just about everything I do in respect to matters like these requires about 3 - 4 times the effort that you would have to cancer wears me out in no time...

Thank you for efforts were positive and for your newspaper, well I have another opinion as of many others will have....

Good luck with your career...your were a pleasure to meet.

Peter Kovolsky