Thursday, August 04, 2005

ANR-Proclaimed Tobacco Industry Front Group Goes After Big Tobacco

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, proclaimed by Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR) to be a tobacco industry "front group," has filed suit in a Louisiana federal court to challenge the constitutionality of the Master Settlement Agreement and has asked the judge to invalidate the settlement (see earlier post for details of lawsuit).

According to ANR's web site: "The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) is another one of Big Tobacco's front groups. Big Tobacco has funded CEI to pump out papers opposing tobacco policy. Opinion papers authored by CEI often appear in some of the nations' larger media outlets."

ANR describes tobacco industry front groups 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."

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) describes itself as "a non-profit public policy organization dedicated to advancing the principles of free enterprise and limited government," which believes that "individuals are best helped not by government intervention, but by making their own choices in a free marketplace."

The Rest of the Story

It shouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that something is wrong with ANR's claim. If ANR is correct that CEI is nothing more than a front group for Big Tobacco, funded by the major tobacco companies to promote their interests, then CEI would never have filed this lawsuit attempting to bring down the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA).

If the MSA is invalidated, as CEI desires, it will be a major blow to the financial interests of Philip Morris and the other major tobacco companies that make up "Big Tobacco."

First, it would be a devastating public relations hit. The tobacco companies would be recognized as a "cartel" that is trying to work with the states to fix prices and inhibit competition.

Second, it would decimate the tobacco companies' arguments in a number of major lawsuits, including the DOJ tobacco case, in which Big Tobacco's primary defense is that the MSA is already serving to prevent and restrain any possible future RICO violations, so no further remedies are required.

Third, it would presumably open up the possibility of a whole new string of state lawsuits against Big Tobacco, since if the MSA is invalidated, then the clause which permanently enjoins the state's from filing Medicaid cost recovery lawsuits against these companies could also be invalidated.

So there is no question that this lawsuit challenging the MSA is an attack on Big Tobacco, and it actually, in my mind, represents one of the greatest threats to the financial interests of Big Tobacco of our time (second only to the Engle case and the Price case).

So whatever CEI is, it is clearly not a group that is merely doing the tobacco industry's work for it.

This should immediately cause ANR to remove CEI from its group of tobacco industry front groups, or at very least, to revise its claims. You can check here to see whether ANR has revised its claims. As of the writing of this post, CEI was still listed as a Big Tobacco front group.

The lesson here is that the world is a bit richer, and more complex than ANR seems to view it. In ANR's eyes, there seem to be only two sides: theirs and Big Tobacco's. Anyone who is fighting tobacco control policies must, by default, be part of Big Tobacco and must be motivated by a desire to advance the interests of Big Tobacco.

In fact, ANR goes so far as to instruct local advocates to attack any groups that oppose their efforts as being tobacco industry front groups, even if they cannot find evidence to prove or document it. By inferring that these groups are merely puppets of the tobacco industry, they can discredit these opposition groups, even if the claims about funding and orchestration by Big Tobacco are not true. Just by making the claim, advocates can discredit these groups in the public's eye:

"Advocates should shine the light on these associations and connections to the tobacco industry. See our factsheet on how to follow the money to find industry connections in your community. There isn't always a "smoking gun" linking the tobacco industry to these groups, either due to lax local campaign finance laws, or money getting funneled through third parties. Often we don't find out until years later that the tobacco industry was funding opposition activities. In any case, showing that suspicious groups are pulling out all the familiar tricks will encourage people to take the Big Tobacco message delivered by these groups with a grain of salt."

The reality is that there are groups out there which have interests which tend to (but do not always) coincide with those of Big Tobacco. The Competitive Enterprise Institute's primary interest is in promoting "free enterprise and limited government." By definition, that is going to most often result in opposition to major tobacco control policies that involve intense government intervention to regulate private companies. So it is no surprise that the CEI's position has often coincided with that of Big Tobacco. And it's also no surprise that tobacco companies have therefore wanted to contribute money to support CEI's work.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that CEI exists simply to promote the interests of Big Tobacco. As the rest of the story reveals, CEI is out to promote free enterprise and limited government, and they'll go after anyone who gets in the way of that mission, even if that anyone happens to be Big Tobacco itself.

Right now, CEI should actually be congratulated by anti-smoking groups for taking an action that they themselves should have taken long ago. But I guess they have been too busy bickering about the money, and fantasizing about how they were going to spend $130 billion.

STAY TUNED for Monday's Challenging Dogma post, which will address the issue of tobacco industry front groups in detail, including ANR's charge that FORCES International is merely a tobacco front group.

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