Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Challenge to Provide Documentation that FORCES is a Tobacco Front Group Ends; Anti-Smoking Groups Should Cease from Making Such Claims

My challenge to anti-smoking groups to provide evidence to back up their assertions that FORCES is a tobacco front group has ended without any documentation of this claim.

From what I can tell, there are presently two anti-smoking organizations that are accusing FORCES, on their internet sites, of being a tobacco industry front group without any documentation. This is in addition, of course, to claims that anti-smoking organizations make in other communications, including comments on this blog itself.

1. Essential Action

Essential Action accused FORCES of being a Big Tobacco front group, referring to: "“One of 5 articles that ran in Wisconsin newspapers. Provoked the following rant from the Forces International (a tobacco industry front group)."”

2. Americans for Nonsmokers'’ Rights

In its section on front groups, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR) lists FORCES and states that "the background information from this document [a document revealing that the National Smokers' Alliance was formed by, and funded by, Philip Morris and was therefore a Big Tobacco front group] is still relevant to other smokers' rights groups such as FORCES."

While the actual title on the page is "Front Groups & Allies," I think it's a fair inference that ANR is accusing FORCES of being a front group rather than merely being an ally for two reasons:

  • ANR puts FORCES in the same category as the National Smokers' Alliance (NSA), a true front group, and claims that the information related to the funding of the NSA is "still relevant" to FORCES; and
  • ANR provides a detailed discussion of the financial connections between FORCES and Big Tobacco, including the issue of whether FORCES is funded by the tobacco industry.

In order to help evaluate the evidence behind ANR's attack on FORCES, ANR provides a definition of "front group" that we can use. It links to the following definition: "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. ... For example, the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) claims that its mission is to defend the rights of consumers to choose to eat, drink and smoke as they please. In reality, CCF is a front group for the tobacco, restaurant and alcoholic beverage industries, which provide all or most of its funding."

Therefore, I believe that ANR is making a public accusation (even if by inference) that FORCES is a Big Tobacco front group that is funded, at least in part, by Big Tobacco. Even if it is not their intent, there is no question in my mind that by lumping them into the category of "“Front Groups & Allies"” and including the specific text that ANR includes, it is going to imply to large numbers of readers that FORCES is a Big Tobacco front group. There'’s just no escaping that.

Before I close, I think it's important to mention that I feel the very fact that ANR is lumping together tobacco front groups and allies is improper, and inappropriate for a public health organization. It's like putting out a list of "Islamic associations and terrorist groups." While it may be technically true that the group putting that list out could claim that they are not accusing any particular group of being a terrorist group, the clear implication of lumping them together is to give the impression in the readers' minds that these groups should be viewed in that way. And the public is likely to associate even groups that are innocent with terrorism due to this inappropriate tactic.

Since my challenge to anti-smoking groups to provide documentation to back up their assertions that FORCES is a tobacco front group has ended without any proof of this claim, I would suggest that anti-smoking organizations remove these accusations and that tobacco control groups and advocates cease from making these attacks in the future.

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