Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights Still Claiming that FORCES is a Big Tobacco Front Group and Ally, Despite Evidence that Industry is Not Involved

Despite a publicly-released Form 990 by FORCES as well as Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights' (ANR) own admission that they have no evidence that the group is funded by the tobacco industry, ANR continues to claim that FORCES is a tobacco industry front group and ally and to imply that the group is secretly funded by the tobacco companies.

In the introduction to its "Front Groups and Allies" section, ANR 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. ...Since 1994, Philip Morris and other tobacco companies have partnered with national and state restaurant associations, licensed beverage associations, and gambling associations as key third parties to publicly oppose smokefree ordinances. ... 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."

Then, ANR lists FORCES as one of these front groups and allies. However, ANR admits that it is aware of evidence that FORCES was not funded by the tobacco industry: "a 1999 Philip Morris (PM) memo indicated that FORCES did not accept tobacco industry funding. Nevertheless, ANR states: "For more information about the strategies behind smokers' rights groups, please read The National Smokers' Alliance Exposed. Even though the National Smokers' Alliance is now (sort of) defunct, the background information from this document is still relevant to other smokers' rights groups such as FORCES."

The document ANR refers to describes how the tobacco industry created and funded the National Smokers' Alliance as an industry front group. Thus, ANR's statement implies that FORCES is also a tobacco industry front group, created by and funded by the industry.

Furthermore, FORCES appears frequently in ANR's "Tobacco Industry Tracking Database." ANR describes the database as follows: "Suspect an industry connection? Take advantage of the ANR Foundation's Tobacco Industry Tracking Database to research activity in your own community."

FORCES' multiple appearances in the tobacco industry database again suggest that ANR is insinuating that FORCES is a tobacco industry front group.

The Form 990 submitted by FORCES in 2005 reveals that its 2004 contributions amounted to only $11,498. This is hardly evidence of funding by Big Tobacco. If the tobacco companies wanted to fund a front group to do their bidding behind the scenes, I think they could afford to contribute a little more than just $10,000 or so.

According to ANR, the true tobacco industry front group - the National Smokers' Alliance - was funded by the industry to the tune of over $4 million. It should be quite obvious to ANR that was is going on with FORCES is something completely different. How ANR can state that "the background information from this document [concerning Big Tobacco's funding of the National Smokers' Alliance] is still relevant to other smokers' rights groups such as FORCES" is beyond me.

But ANR doesn't seem concerned about being able to prove its accusations of wrongdoing. To ANR, it appears enough to simply think that a smoker's rights group might be funded by the tobacco companies. That's apparently enough to make a public accusation, and ANR advises local tobacco control groups to do just that: "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."

In other words, what ANR appears to be saying is that you don't need to have evidence that FORCES or another smokers' rights group is a Big Tobacco front group. Just make the accusation or insinuation anyway and you can discredit the group. Often, there is no smoking gun and we don't find out until years later that the group was funded by the industry. So don't let that stop you. Go ahead and make the accusation now, without evidence. After all, you might end up being right. But it doesn't really matter because your goal is to discredit the enemy, not to worry about the facts, the evidence, or the truth.

The Rest of the Story

The truth is that despite what ANR would like to believe, FORCES is not a tobacco industry front group or even an industry ally. It was not created by the industry, it is not funded by the industry, and it is not part of an alliance with the industry. In fact, FORCES has been an outspoken critic of Big Tobacco and would like nothing more than to have the big companies crumble (lower cigarette prices would be of financial benefit to smokers).

The truth is that FORCES is an organization that is working to achieve its own goals. It is made up of members who sincerely believe in what they are working towards. They are not doing the tobacco industry's bidding; they are not serving as a secret front group.

While ANR might not like to admit it, there are citizens out there who do not support the tobacco control agenda, and the reason they do not support that agenda has nothing to do with being paid by or used by or allied with the tobacco companies. It is undoubtably true that there are also some groups out there which are tobacco industry front groups and allies. And it is important for tobacco control groups to point out or expose those particular groups. But to accuse all opposition groups of being front groups or allies, without evidence to support those accusations, is not appropriate.

The rest of the story is that ANR has descended to an unethical level. It is using unethical and inappropriate tactics in its fight against the tobacco industry. It is making false claims and undocumented assertions and accusations to the public in order to support its agenda. While I personally support most aspects of that agenda, I do not condone the use of these unethical tactics.

If ANR has evidence that FORCES is funded by the tobacco companies and/or is part of an alliance with the industry, it should put forward that evidence immediately. If not, then it should immediately retract or clarify its false accusation.

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