Thursday, September 18, 2008

Canadian Non-smokers' Rights Association Accuses CAGE of Being a Tobacco Industry Front Group

In a document entitled "Exposing Recent Tobacco Industry Front Groups and Alliances," the Canadian Non-Smokers' Rights Association (NSRA) accuses Citizens Against Government Encroachment (CAGE) of being a Big Tobacco front group. Readers may recognize CAGE as being the same group that has filed a defamation lawsuit against "Cathy Bell," who made a similar accusation against CAGE, but apparently retracted it from "her" web site after the lawsuit was filed.

The document, dated March 2008, defines a "front group" as being an industry-funded group that in some way hides its funding or its vested interest. In particular: "By operating in the shadows cast by Big Tobacco, industry-funded front groups make it difficult to determine whether these 'grassroots' organizations are truly independent or representing some other entity or vested interest."

The Non-Smokers' Rights Association adopts the following definition of "front group," which is taken from the SourceWatch encyclopedia: "A front group is an organization that purports to represent one agenda while in reality it serves some other party or interest whose sponsorship is hidden or rarely mentioned."

Thus, as NRSA defines it, a front group is funded (sponsored) by a third party whose interests are being directly served in a concealed way.

The Non-Smokers' Rights Association makes a clear delineation between front groups - which are funded by Big Tobacco - and other types of smokers' rights groups which oppose tobacco control causes but are independent of the tobacco industry. Specifically, NSRA states: "citizen-based smokers' rights groups and bartenders and restaurant workers who organize themselves to work against smoke-free public places and workplaces are sometimes mischaracterized as fronts for the tobacco industry."

The NRSA document goes on to list 3 categories of tobacco control opposition groups:

1) Front groups -- as defined above (they are secretly or covertly funded by Big Tobacco).

2) Organizations that behave like tobacco industry fronts -- These groups take positions which favor the tobacco industry but are not funded by the industry: "It is important to note...that even though these associations have fronted for, acted as apologists for tobacco companies, or partnered with the industry to undermine or block reform, they are not front groups like Mychoice.ca. They are legitimate organizations that play important roles in representing the interests of their members on a wide range of issues."

3) Think tanks -- these are groups which deal with issues other than tobacco, but which may receive tobacco industry funding and which take a position that supports the industry stand.

Under "Front Groups," NRSA lists, for example, Mychoice.ca - a group which NRSA states received $2.5 million from the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council.

Under "Front Groups," NRSA also lists CAGE.

Here is what NRSA states about CAGE to support its position that CAGE is a Big Tobacco front group:

"CAGE has ‘evolved’ from a student-based libertarian group of McGill University to a corporate-funded lobbying cluster, still based in Montreal. CAGE uses all of the tactics commonly employed by tobacco industry funded groups. The group first mobilized its ‘supporters’ to oppose a policy which would have eliminated the sale of tobacco products in a convenience store on McGill’s downtown campus. As is usual with industry front groups, CAGE became more active as legislators, in this case Qu├ębec’s Minister of Health, announced their intent to implement more stringent smoke-free legislation. CAGE is headed by David Romano, who is assisted by his brother Daniel and a few others, with financing provided by the Romano brothers. CAGE has publicly voiced its support for Peter Sergakis, Voula Demopoulos and the small group of Quebec bar owners who are fighting Quebec’s Tobacco Act in court."

The Rest of the Story

The rest of the story is that NRSA has made an unwarranted and undocumented accusation that CAGE is a tobacco industry front group. The charge is unwarranted because NRSA provides not a shred of evidence that CAGE receives tobacco industry funding or is in any way associated with the tobacco industry.

The Non-Smokers' Rights Association is truly in a hole trying to defend its accusation, because NRSA itself has defined "front group" as being a tobacco industry-funded organization. In fact, NRSA has gone so far as to make it clear that even groups which may act like front groups - opposing tobacco control policies - are not truly front groups if they do not receive tobacco funding and are actually acting on their own behalf, rather than merely doing the bidding for their tobacco industry sponsors.

Thus, the NRSA charge being leveled here by calling CAGE a front group is clearly that CAGE is funded by Big Tobacco and is therefore doing the tobacco industry's bidding. The charge, in addition, is that CAGE is hiding its tobacco industry funding and trying to deceive the public into thinking that it is a legitimate organization that aims to serve the interests of its grassroots members.

However, NRSA provides no evidence (none at all) that CAGE receives tobacco industry funding. While NRSA states that CAGE has opposed a number of tobacco control policies, it provides no evidence that CAGE was acting on behalf of the vested interests of a Big Tobacco sponsor. In summary, NRSA fails to document or provide any evidence that CAGE is funded by a tobacco company.

If untrue, this accusation may be a defamatory one because it would represent a lie, presumably communicated with malicious intent. The disregard for the truth would appear to be quite blatant since NRSA provides no evidence whatsoever that CAGE is funded by a tobacco company. Also, since NRSA makes a clear demarcation between front groups and groups which behave like fronts and chose to put CAGE in the former group rather than the latter, it is difficult to argue that NRSA is using the term "front group" loosely. There appears to be an intent to accuse CAGE of actual tobacco industry funding.

My point is that it is inappropriate (and possibly a violation of law) for NRSA to be making an accusation like this without documentation.

I have written previously on this blog about how this appears to be a new, but increasingly used tactic, of anti-smoking groups: accuse opposition organizations of being Big Tobacco front groups in order to discredit them, whether or not you have evidence to document or prove that your accusation is correct.

This is a tactic which has no place in the tobacco control movement.

I believe that NRSA either must provide the documentation that CAGE receives tobacco industry funding, or it must retract its accusation and apologize to CAGE for making an undocumented accusation.

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