Smoking as a civic duty

From SourceWatch
Jump to navigation Jump to search

This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Only a tobacco-funded think tank would ever go so far as to describe smoking as a civic duty. The tobacco industry has been a regular funder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, (CEI) which in turn has gone to bat repeatedly and eagerly for tobacco in its battles with government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Following the 1993 release of EPA's risk assessment linking secondhand cigarette smoke to lung cancer, CEI cranked out opinion articles for major newspapers with titles such as "A Smoking Gun Firing Blanks," "EPA's Bad Science Mars ETS Report," and "Safety Is a Relative Thing for Cars; Why Not for Cigarettes?"

CEI policy analyst Alexander Volokh went even further. "Perhaps, in the fine tradition of civil disobedience championed by Thoreau, we should even think of smoking as a civic duty," he wrote in the July 1994 issue of the CEI Update. "Perhaps," he continued, "every January 11th -- the anniversary of the Surgeon General's original 1964 report on smoking -- we should all light up, giving a filter-tipped finger, as it were, to a health-obsessed government." Volokh admitted that the government's efforts to discourage smoking "may further the cause of health," but concluded that "there are things more valuable than health."

In 1996, CEI was one of eight think tanks named in a report by Ralph Nader's Public Citizen titled "A Million for Your Thoughts: The Industry-Funded Campaign by Conservative Think Tanks Against the FDA." The report identified $3.5 million that these think tanks had received in funding from pharmaceutical, medical device, biotechnology and tobacco companies to help them pump out a "steady stream of reports, fact sheets, op-ed articles and newspaper, radio and television advertisements purporting to document the FDA's deadly overcaution and bullying of manufacturers." CEI's Julie DeFalco responded to the Public Citizen report by claiming that its positions on government regulations were developed "years before we ever received tobacco or drug industry money. Our position on FDA reform -- that the FDA is inherently prone to 'deadly overcaution,' and its veto power over new therapies should be removed -- hasn't changed in the nine years since then. How, then, does the fact that our support base has grown to include tobacco and pharmaceutical companies affect the validity of our position?"

Subsequently, however, additional information has become public about CEI's ties to the tobacco industry (including funding from Philip Morris that was not mentioned in the Public Citizen report). The 1997 settlement between tobacco companies and U.S. state attorney generals obligated the tobacco industry to place millions of pages of its internal documents online at locations such as the Philip Morris documents website. Those documents show that there was a hidden tobacco agenda behind CEI's attacks on FDA policies for regulating pharmaceuticals. Those attacks came at the very same time that tobacco executives were scrambling to head off the possibility that the FDA might acquire jurisdiction to regulate cigarettes. During the mid-1990s, Philip Morris alone gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to CEI and other think tanks and front groups such as the Washington Legal Foundation, Newt Gingrich's Progress and Freedom Foundation, the Cato Institute, and Citizens for a Sound Economy, which then argued publicly against FDA regulation of tobacco. According to the Wall Street Journal, "antipathy toward David Kessler's Food and Drug Administration, which wants to regulate cigarettes," was a major common denominator among the think tanks and policy groups to which tobacco companies donated during that time period. Rather than acting independently, CEI and other tobacco-funded think tanks coordinated their activities closely with the tobacco industry's attorneys, lobbyists and PR firms.

In February 1994, FDA Commissioner David Kessler suggested that the agency might have "a legal basis on which to regulate [tobacco] products," based on evidence from internal industry documents and industry insiders that nicotine in cigarettes was being manipulated to cause addiction -- in essence acting as a drug. This was the backdrop to the now-infamous incident in April 1994 when top tobacco executives testified before Congress that nicotine is not addictive.

That same year, Philip Morris received a request for funding from CEI titled "The Human Cost of Regulation: Reframing the Debate on Risk Management." The proposal stated, "Risk has become the secular version of sin in our society, and risk management is the modern-day equivalent of religious crusades. ... From Superfund to indoor air quality to medical drug and device approval, bureaucratic initiatives on this front have ended up as incredibly costly failures whose only real achievement has been the creation of public alarm." To counter this purported threat, CEI proposed to raise "public recognition of the adverse public health effects of medical drug regulation and nutritional labeling" by demonstrating that "risk management by government can often have lethal effects."

Philip Morris had already given $50,000 to CEI on June 29, 1993, and it sent another check for $25,000 on July 27, 1994. The quid pro quo came a few months later. In the fall of 1994, notes an internal Philip Morris memorandum, the tobacco company approached CEI, along with the Washington Legal Foundation and Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), seeking their help "to define the FDA as an agency out of control and one failing to live up to its congressional mandate regarding regulation of drugs and medical devices."

"To the extent FDA regulation was wrapped up in the youth smoking issue, it was hard to argue against," Steven C. Parrish noted in an August 1995 presentation to the Philip Morris board of directors. They therefore wanted CEI and the other think tanks to build a case against the FDA surrounding issues unrelated to tobacco. As Parrish explained, "Philip Morris representatives with scientific credentials were assigned the task of meeting with various 'think tanks' to discuss the issue of FDA regulation and encourage guest editorials and comments to the media." PM was "pleased," he said, "to see a chorus of rising criticism of Kessler and FDA." Beginning in December 1994, CEI joined CSE and the CEI in what Parrish described as "aggressive media campaigns ... through newspaper ads, policy papers, symposia, or by filing petitions directly with the FDA, and speaking directly to politicians." [1]

A January 26, 1995, attorney's memorandum by David P. Nicoli to Philip Morris, marked "privileged and confidential," details the company's behind-the-scenes role in a coordinated rollout of media attacks on the FDA by PM's "non-tobacco" allies. CEI began the attack on January 11, "running inside the Beltway anti-FDA radio and TV ads." The following day, CSE held a press conference with a sympathetic congressman and began running its own inside the Beltway ads. Simultaneously, the Washington Legal Foundation ran a full-page ad in the New York Times and a three-quarter-page ad in the Wall Street Journal. The FDA's first public response to these attacks occurred on January 17. This was followed, Nicoli noted, by an industry "counter attack that both AP and Reuters pick up. Further volleys fly between the two, as trade press, general media amplify the fight." Other voices began chiming in -- the drug industry, the Washington Post, Business Week. Nicoli added that further attacks were already in the works, organized by Jim Tozzi, one of PM's top lobbyists, in coordination with the Progress and Freedom Foundation and the blue-chip PR firm of Powell Tate. "Progress and Freedom Foundation, through Tozzi, set to release FDA piece on 2/1/95 with Powell Tate publicizing," Nicoli reported. [2]

Related Sourcewatch resources

External links