Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Challenging Dogma (Post #4): All Groups that Oppose Tobacco Control Policies are Big Tobacco Front Groups

One of the things that I was "taught" during my experience as a tobacco control advocate was that all opposition to tobacco control policies originates, ultimately, from the tobacco industry. Therefore, any group that opposes tobacco control policies is most probably a tobacco industry front group. Through my years of working with Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR), I was led to believe that organizations such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, FORCES, and the Heartland Institute (all are currently listed on ANR's web site as front groups/allies) were merely fronts for the tobacco industry.

Interestingly, my experience accords with Michael McFadden's observation that many anti-smoking advocates "are quick to put the label of 'Big Tobacco Front or Ally' upon any group or individual who opposes the notion of the deadliness of secondary smoke or any who question the funding or motivation of Crusading groups."

The ANR web site explains what it means by a front group as follows:

"Tobacco companies are the engineers behind the scenes keeping the trains running on time for the opposition in your town. The problem for Big Tobacco is that it has no credibility with the public. So tobacco companies have developed a system of front groups and allies to allow them to stay in the shadows and have others carry their message publicly. The industry then arms these front groups with strategies and tactics to spoil smokefree air campaigns."

ANR also explains that:

"It has been a common practice of Big Tobacco to use third parties or to create front groups 'to be out in front fighting' smokefree policies, while the industry remains behind the scenes, protecting its public image."

I think there are essentially 3 major criteria that define a tobacco industry front group in the way that ANR and other anti-smoking groups and advocates use the term. These criteria stem from the central principle that the intended purpose of the front group is, by definition, to create or sustain a group that is perceived as an independent party that is expressing its own views, when in fact, it is really just serving as a vehicle for the industry to promote its own interests, but in a way that allows the industry to remain behind the scenes.

1. The group is created by and/or primarily funded by the tobacco industry.

2. The group hides the fact of its establishment by, or heavy funding from, the tobacco industry.

3. The group promotes the interests of the tobacco industry rather than any true independent interests of its own and of its members.

To see how this works and how these criteria can be used to assess whether a group is indeed a front group, let me present two examples of what I consider to be "real" front groups.

1. THE BEVERLY HILLS RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION (BHRA) -- It appears that in 1987, with a smoke-free restaurant ordinance being considered in Beverly Hills, the tobacco industry established and supported an organization (BHRA) to have the appearance of being an independent association of restaurateurs who were concerned about their business, but that in fact was simply a front group to allow the industry to fight the ordinance without having to identify itself.

The association was non-existent before the ordinance was proposed and was set up primarily, if not solely, to lobby against the ordinance. It was organized by the tobacco industry, rather than an independent effort of concerned restaurateurs. The tobacco industry basically ran the show.

Barry Fogel, president of the BHRA at the time, later revealed the truth behind the organization, while testifying in support of New York City's smoke-free ordinance: "
There was no Beverly Hills Restaurant Association before the smokefree ordinance. We were organized by the tobacco industry. The industry helped pay our legal bills in a suit against Beverly Hills. The industry even flew some of our members by Learjet to Rancho Mirage, another California city considering smokefree restaurant legislation, to testify before their City Council against a similar smokefree ordinance. Tobacco Institute representatives attended some of our meetings."

Here, all 3 criteria are met. The front group in question was established by and was primarily funded by the tobacco industry. The group apparently did hide its true affiliation. And it is pretty clear that the group was established almost solely to promote the tobacco industry's interest of fighting smoke-free ordinances in Beverly Hills and elsewhere in California.

2. THE CITIZENS' COMMISSION TO PROTECT THE TRUTH -- The Citizens' Commission, on the surface, appears to be an independent group that seeks to promote funding for the American Legacy Foundation's "truth" anti-smoking campaign. It has filed amicus briefs in a number of lawsuits, seeking to promote the Legacy Foundation's interests. For example, it filed a brief in the DOJ case, requesting that any funding resulting from a remedy involving an anti-smoking media campaign be awarded to Legacy. It also filed a brief defending Legacy in a lawsuit brought by Lorillard charging Legacy with violating the anti-vilification clause of the Master Settlement Agreement.

However, the truth is that the Citizens' Commission is primarily funded by the American Legacy Foundation. It failed to disclose this in the DOJ amicus brief, and while it did disclose it in the Lorillard case, it downplayed the significance of this fact and it still denied that it had any affiliation with Legacy.

Here, all 3 criteria are met. The front group in question is funded primarily by the American Legacy Foundation. It has taken great steps to hide and even deny its affiliation with Legacy, failing to disclose this relationship or downplaying it before federal judges. And it exists pretty much exclusively to promote the interests of the American Legacy Foundation: namely, to secure funding to continue the "truth" anti-smoking campaign.

The Rest of the Story

Now let's look at 3 of the organizations that ANR lists as being tobacco industry front groups: FORCES, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), and the Cato Institute.

It is quite clear that none of these organizations was established by the tobacco industry.

It is also quite clear that while at least two of these groups have received contributions from the tobacco companies, the industry is not the primary source of their funding.

It does not appear to be the case that the Cato Institute is hiding its tobacco funding, since this information is readily
displayed on its web site. That CEI has received tobacco funding also seems to be well-known.

It is also clear that while these groups have tended to take positions that align with those of the tobacco industry, the groups are not merely working to promote the industry's interests, but they are in fact promoting their own interests, which tend to center around the idea of limited government intrusion into the private behavior of citizens and/or the preservation of free enterprise and limited government.

So none of the 3 criteria are clearly met for any of these organizations. They were not established by the tobacco industry and are not funded primarily by the industry. The organizations for which tobacco funding is clear do not appear to be hiding that information. And these groups are all clearly promoting a range of interests that extend far beyond simply protecting the tobacco industry's profits. In fact, they have taken a position that is directly counter to Big Tobacco's interests and which could result in major economic harm to the major tobacco companies.

The truth of the matter, in my opinion, is that it is simply not the case that any organization that opposes tobacco control policies is a tobacco industry front group. And it is simply not the case that a number of the organizations listed by ANR as being tobacco industry front groups actually are.

The rest of the story suggests that the dogma that has led many anti-smoking organizations and advocates to assume that any organization which opposes tobacco control policies must be a tobacco industry front group is wrong. While there might not be any damage done if groups and advocates simply made this false assumption, they are doing more than that. They are actually, in my view, falsely accusing these organizations of being front groups.

That's wrong, and I hope that it changes. You can monitor the ANR front group list here to see if it changes.

Most importantly, I hope that tobacco control practitioners will begin to understand that there are non-tobacco-industry-related interests that would motivate an individual to oppose tobacco control policies. We need to have respect for individuals we find are fighting on the other side of issues, and to discontinue the knee-jerk reaction of attacking them as being affiliated with the tobacco industry. We also need to respect the fact that there is another way of looking at things, even though we may vigorously disagree. Respect for, and fair treatment of individuals must come ahead of any institutional goals.


Bill Godshall said...

It strikes me as unproductive to debate the correct term(s) to refer to organizations funded by cigarette companies to engage in legal, legislative, political and/or media advocacy in order to benefit the cigarette company.

But in contrast to your assertion, I'm not aware that any of the organizations listed on ANR's webpage "Front Groups & Allies" have disclosed the fact that they received cigarette industry funding.

It should also be noted that Michael McFadden and the folks at FORCES inaccurately call anyone who advocates policies to reduce smoking as "anti smokers", the "anti tobacco cartel" and/or the "anti smoking cartel" even though most of us help smokers overcome their addiction and reduce their health risks, including many of us who aren't even paid for our work.

To be objective, your blog should also expose and criticize the far more numerous and outrageous inaccurate claims made by FORCES, CEI and other cigarette industry allies.

norbert hirschhorn said...

The main field of battle over smoking is -- has been for decades -- passive smoke in public spaces: work, restaurants and bars, transportation, public buildings. It is illuminating to read what FORCES posts on its website against the accumulating evidence of harm done to non-smokers from passive smoke. "Numerous...
outrageous...inaccurate," is correct. (I might add as well, the extra harm done to smokers themselves is a topic needing more understanding.)

My point: FORCES is not just a civil society organization seeking to protect human rights, though it may consider itself that, but has long been a useful public ally to the tobacco industry even if not funded. The tobacco industry's motives, methods and impact on society are well known.

Michael Siegel said...

Bill - I guess I don't see the truth as a semantic point. I don't think we're just talking about the use of the correct term. It really amounts to public health organizations making false and/or misleading claims about individuals and/or groups. I see that as a major problem, not merely a semantic one.

Bert - I do think there's a difference between accusing a group of being an ally of tobacco interests versus accusing the group of being a "front" for the tobacco industry. My point here is not that the interests of FORCES and tobacco companies do not most often align (although there are several examples of where they do not), but that FORCES is not operating as a tobacco front group, but is instead representing the interests of its members and the principle of no government intrusion into the behavior of smokers.

Also, people need to keep in mind that I'm responding, in part, to an actual public accusation (or series of accusations) that are being made by a prominent anti-smoking group that I find misleading and inaccurate.

No matter how much FORCES may oppose smoke-free laws, it does not justify making inaccurate claims about the organization.

John Ferguson said...

I think some have labelled the ACLU as a tobacco ally, especially if $ flowed into the organization. More to the point, some local group that arises to oppose local smoking restrictions wouldn't turn down tobacco $ -- any more than it's opposition would turn down anti-smoking $. All the comments were interesting, but M Siegel's on target.

Bill Godshall said...

While I agree that being truthful is important, your blog has repeatedly criticized several health organizations for somewhat misleading statements, while you continue ignoring blatantly false claims of various entities that collaborate with cigarette companies to oppose public health policies, including many organizations that are funded by cigarette companies for that very purpose.

And although ANR's description of certain (but not all) entities that are funded by cigarette companies and/or that lobby for cigarette company protection policies as "tobacco industry front groups" may be inaccurate, you haven't suggested other terms that you think are more appropriate (e.g. selfish drug addicts, air pollution proponents, hired guns, lobbyists, co-conspirators, cigarette industry apologists, etc.).

Albert Ventrella said...

Bill---Since you're accusing Siegel of "ignoring" FORCES' "blatantly false" claims, why don't you respond to some of them?

As Mr. Hischhorn correctly observed, the key issue in the debate is secondhand smoke---so why not look at FORCES' claims in that area? They say secondhand smoke studies are inconclusive because of their low relative risk findings. Their website quotes several prominent epidemiologists saying that risks below 2.0 are insignificant. I have never seen an adequate response to this. Do you have one?

Michael Siegel said...

In response to Bill's excellent question, I do want to point out 3 things:

First, I do hold public health groups to a different standard. As public health practitioners, I believe that there is a code of ethics that we should adhere to. And telling the truth, as well as not misleading the public is, I believe a part of that code.

Also, we owe it to ourselves to be honest, because we are the ones who are attacking the tobacco industry on the grounds of its dishonesty and its misleading the public. How can we have any credibility if we attack the industry for misleading the public, and then we go ahead and mislead the public?

The ends do not justify the means, and just because our end may be more noble than that of the industry, I don't think it gives us the right to dismiss our integrity.

Second, I don't think that attacking the integrity of others is an appropriate response to defending our own failures. Two wrongs don't make a right, and it doesn't in any way justify our unethical behavior to point out that there are groups out there which are using misleading or dishonest tactics.

Finally, I am a public health practitioner and I am here to comment about what is going on in public health, focusing on what the actions being taken by public health groups. I have written and published extensively on the tobacco industry and its behavior and continue to do so, but this blog is not going to simply reiterate the findings and conclusions of my research.

Most importantly, I think that before we can criticize others for their unethical behavior, we need to clean our own house. Until we're practicing our profession in an ethical and appropriate manner, I don't know that we should focus on telling others what to do in that area.

Michael J. McFadden said...

Bill Godshall wrote to Mike Siegel: "while you continue ignoring blatantly false claims of various entities that collaborate with cigarette companies to oppose public health policies"

Mr. Godshall, from the body of your comments it would appear that you class me as one of those entities. Please take a few minutes and name a few of those "blatantly false claims" you feel I have made.

On my own web page at TheTruthIsALie.com I examine 24 of the claims of Truth.com and various " front groups and allies" of the $800 million dollar a year "Tobacco Control Movement." I won't ask you to dispute 24 of my claims, but how about just a half dozen? I'm sure that by now, as a responsible Tobacco Control Advocate, you will have read my book and have such criticisms at your fingertips... after all, I've read quite a bit of material on the other side of the aisle myself. You might also find my criticisms of "The Great Helena Heart Fraud" on my web page below to be interesting reading: if you feel I have made any blatantly false claims there please let me know and I will hasten to correct them if needed.

By the way, if you have any communication with Stu Kerr, of Ohio Antismoking fame, would you ask him to please respond to a number of requests I've made of him and Stand Ohio over the past year for the "1,000 page study" about Bowling Green he assured me I'd be interested in reading? For some odd reason neither he nor Stand Ohio have responded to my repeated requests for documentation.

Finally, a question if you don't mind... You speak of "many of us referring to yourself and other Antismoking allies) who aren't even paid to work." Is it true that you've never received any significant amount of money for any activities involved with tobacco control? Not even for expenses incurred in such activities?

Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"

Anonymous said...

Circa-1991 with federal funding, project assist was formed. In a brochure published in 1993 stated the program strategy was to "reduce public tolerance of tobacco use through changes in policy, accompanied by media and educational programs." In other words, social engineering through propaganda campaigns. The device was to alter how society views a segment of it's population.

You can argue the semantics of the wording to imply it is only the act of smoking, and not the person performing the act, but if it was a policy to reduce public tolerance of homosexual acts, would this policy be considered "anti-gay"?

In the early 30's, the Germans were leading the world in epidemiology research, including research in smoking and lung cancer, but some research was devoted to other social engineering programs. The leaders saw this as a tremendous benefit to their society, the purification of the races, and a program was set in place to reduce public tolerance of a segment of their population. Grant after grant was handed out with the goal to prove how inferior this race was. With "scientific proof" in hand, the public was "educated" through the media, and through state education.

Social engineering is a very dangerous device, especially in the hands of the state. It takes huge sums of money to wage propaganda campaigns, but as in Germany, the targets of the "intolerance" were taxed to support the campaigns. If this wasn't enough, propaganda campaigns were waged to deny them employment, housing and other basic necessities of life by their own countrymen.

Intolerance is not easily controlled, once the seeds are sown. I make these observations not to belittle the plight of the Jews in the last century, but rather illustrate the dangers of state sponsored social engineering programs.

We are now seeing some of the same techniques used to combat one "social disease" now being used against others with much more frequency.

In my honest opinion, the treatment is worse than the disease for society as a whole, as intolerance only breeds more intolerance.

I doubt some of the Jehovah Witnesses of the Tobacco Control World will ever begin to understand, but they should ask themselves would they want the state encouraging their neighbors to be intolerant of their lifestyle? And I have to ponder if it ever occur to them that some sinners don't want to be "saved"?

Bill Godshall said...

One needs to look no further the title of Michael McFadden's book for a blatantly false claim. Calling those who assist smokers overcome their deadly drug addiction and those who assist smokers exercise their rights by suing cigarette companies "antismokers" is not only inaccurate, but highly insulting. I also have friends and relatives who smoke

FORCES calls us Nazis, which is even more inaccurate and insulting.

Regarding funding, my wife and I have contributed tens of thousands of dollars and I've volunteered tens of thousands of hours over the past fifteen years for my public health activism. So much for the term cartel.

Anonymous said...

"The rest of the story suggests that the dogma that has led many anti-smoking organizations and advocates to assume that any organization which opposes tobacco control policies must be a tobacco industry front group is wrong."

- A straw man attack from Michael Siegel

Anonymous said...

"Mr. Godshall, from the body of your comments it would appear that you class me as one of those entities." - Michael J. McFadden

I certainly wouldn't attempt to speak for Bill Godshall, but my own opinion is, Michael J. McFadden is so full of shit that it runs out of his ears.

Albert Ventrella said...

Mr. Godshall says in the same breath that he wants smokers to quit & that he's insulted at being called "anti-smoking." He then proceeds to quibble with Mr. McFadden's nomenclature, attempting to pass this off as a refutation of his claims.

Mr. Godshall has been asked to address some very specific points that stem from his characterization of Forces et al's "blantantly false claims." He has evaded each and every one. I don't thinkit's premature to conclude that he isn't holding any cards.

Albert Ventrella said...

"Anonymous," meanwhile, has contented himself with mud-flinging of a more naked variety. First he accuses Mr. Siegel of mounting "a straw man attack" (when Mr. Seigel has in fact given lengthy and thoroughly detailed examples to support his case, in the form of this very blog); next he attacks Mr. McFadden by with a totally unsubstantiated insult.

Would either you ("Anonymous") or Mr. Godshall care to address some of the issues we have raised here? Either my question about epidemiology & odds ratios, or Mr. McFadden's challenge regarding any 12 of his 24 points? So far, your silence speaks volumes (and your bluster is only wind).

Cantiloper said...

I appreciate the fact that Bill Godshall was able to read the title of my book accurately. I kept it to three words and deliberately kept the cover art somewhat understated in order to focus attention fully on those three words. To understand my thesis fully however it is helpful to also open the book and read a bit further.

Antismokers is indeed an accurate characterization of many who are involved in the tobacco control movement. Those who've actually read my book before attempting to criticize it have generally felt that characterization and the classification of various "types" of Antismokers to be accurate.

To offer someone who has decided to quit smoking support in their decision does not classify one as being an Antismoker. However deliberately pushing for the creation of conditions that will make smokers unhappy in various ways in order to pressure them to quit does indeed earn one that classification.

I would like to apologise for any implication that Bill Godshall, as executive director of SmokeFree Pennsylvania, or any of the other folks who work with that group get paid in any way or have their expenses covered. I'd assumed that SmokeFree Pennsylvania had funding of some sort and that it would be used for such things.

Many Antismoking Crusaders are not as pure in their motives however and benefit financially from their opinions and work. We need to remember that according to the AMA itself, just the money from the States that gets poured into "Tobacco Control" can top out at over $880 million in a single year. Mr. Godshall may have never taken any of that money, but many others have and usually try to avoid mentioning it.

Bill Godshall said...

The most fundamental right in civilized society is the right not to be harmed by the actions of other people.

The combustion of tobacco produces many poisonous gases and other air pollutants that can and do harm people.

And in enclosed indoor areas, the combustion of just one cigarette usually generates levels of air pollution that exceed outdoor air pollution standards.

Smokers have exactly the same rights as everyone else, but exposing and harming other people with tobacco smoke is not a right.

albert ventrella said...

"And in enclosed indoor areas, the combustion of just one cigarette usually generates levels of air pollution that exceed outdoor air pollution standards."


It just keeps getting better. Next they'll be saying that secondhand smoke is more lethal than flying shrapnel and mustard gas combined, deadlier than Dracular, more dangerous than Alien OR Predator.

Is this statement based on any sort of published research? If so, would you be so kind as to cite it?

Cantiloper said...

Bill Godshall wrote:

"The combustion of tobacco produces many poisonous gases and other air pollutants that can and do harm people.

I respond:
One of the Antismokers' pet tricks (among many) is to always ignore quantity and magnitude of effect in their sound bites. Bill's comment above (written several days ago after I'd innocently and evidently wrongly implied that he might be getting paid for his Antismoking work as Executive Director of SmokeFree Pennsylvania) takes advantage of this trick nicely.

Bill would undoubtedly include Arsenic as one of those poisons that harm people. Cigarette smoke does indeed contain arsenic. What Bill and his ilk consistently fail to point out however is that you'd have to be around smokers while they smoked roughly 165,000 cigarettes in order to get the same governmentally approved as safe dose of arsenic that you might get in a large glass of tap water. Now while it's possible that Bill is on an even bigger campaign to save us from water, somehow it doesn't seem to have the same media visibility.

Bill also wrote:
And in enclosed indoor areas, the combustion of just one cigarette usually generates levels of air pollution that exceed outdoor air pollution standards.

I respond:
This is the claim currently being touted at smoking ban hotspots around the country by the traveling circus of Mark Travers, a sidekick of Stanton Glantz et al. Mark picks out one or two specific elements that are largely unique to tobacco smoke. He measures them in bars before or without bans and then in bars with bans.

Basically, he's measuring whether there's cigarette smoke in the air. Amazingly enough he's discovered that in bars where smoking is banned there is less smoke in the air.

Who woulda thunk it, eh?

Now the trick that Mark and Bill and friends like to use is calling this particular measurement of one or two elements of smoke "Air Pollution" because air pollution is a nice general and scary sounding term which we all KNOW is bad for our health.

Of course he could perform similar measurements with similar horrific-sounding results if he did his measurements in a Catholic Church before or after a High Mass on Easter, but for some reason he prefers to hang out in bars.

For more tricks and treats that the Antis like to use, visit TheTruthIsALie.com from my web page below.