Corporate mobilization of employees

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Corporations likely learned the astroturf technique of mobilizing company employees to oppose legislation from Philip Morris, whose documents indicate the company used this technique on several occasions.

Opposition to FDA regulation of tobacco

A 1995 Philip Morris memo (PM) describes how the company mobilized the employees of its food and drink subsidiaries as a lobbying force against proposed FDA regulation of tobacco. To create the appearance of a "grassroots" uprising, PM provides its employees (and those of its subsidiaries, like Kraft and Miller Beer) with telephone lines ("phone banks"), letter writing booths, "desk drops," pre-stamped envelopes, carbon paper, etc. and lets employees know it is "in their interests" to oppose measures PM doesn't like. If a subsidiary does not wish to join PM's "grass roots mobilization," PM applies pressure to the subsidiary's senior management to get them to join the protest:

Last November we asked Kraft and Miller to distribute a memo to their employees asking for letters into the FDA. As I mentioned yesterday, Kraft chose not to participate ... ... We will need for our senior management to communicate with Kraft, and probably Miller senior management before we can count on their participation...Once KF and Miller have 'bought in' to the idea, it is important that the word trickle down through the organization that helping oppose FDA is in KF's and Miller's interests.

PM also uses a "dictation program," in which they have "trained operators" call consumers and ask if they want to write a protest letter to their legislator or a government agency. The operator then types up the letter and mails the typed letters to the consumer (along with the requisite number of copies and pre-stamped envelopes). To protest a proposed increase in the federal excise tax (FET) on cigarettes, Philip Morris did a mass mailing of one million pieces. It generated 20,000 letters protesting the health measure, a 2% response rate. Even at the bulk rate for first class (and excluding printing and stuffing costs), such a mailing would cost PM approximately $260,000 in postage alone. This represents a net postage cost of about $13.00 per actual response obtained. Not too many health groups could afford that type of expenditure.

Other groups PM mobilizes to protest health measures include their suppliers, wholesalers, shareholders, and retailers.[1]

Generating "grassroots" employee opposition to a smoking ban on British Airways, 1993

On August 3, 1993 British Airways (BA) issued a press release announcing that all of its European flights of 90 minutes or less would become smoke-free. The press release said that three-quarters of all passengers on its non-smoking flights had said they would continue to fly BA after the measure was implemented.[2]

The Philip Morris Tobacco Company immediately started looking for ways to pressure British Airways into reversing this decision. One of the people leading PM's campaign against British Airways was Matthew Winokur of Philip Morris Worldwide Regulatory Affairs.

Winokur wrote a telex/email titled "BA Tactics" in September 1993 in which he suggests a "grassroots strategy" of using Philip Morris' employees to pressure British Airways to reverse the ban. Winokur suggests that all PM employees (and employees of other tobacco companies) who travel on British Airways should be furnished with a blank piece of paper with their tickets along with instructions to submit a written complaint to British Airways about the lack of smoking seats on their flights. The plan would create the impression that large numbers of British Airways customers were unhappy with the smoking restrictions. Presumably the reason that Winokur wanted to furnish the employees with BLANK paper (and not tobacco company letterhead) was to obscure the fact that all the complaints were coming from tobacco company employees.

Of his idea, Winokur states,

"If PM and our allies all do this, we could create the impression that passengers...are in fact not pleased with the ban. This will go head on with the ban....What do you think? This could create a real volume of letters..."[3]

Winokur wrote to the British Tobacco Advisory Council seeking more participation in the clandestine letter-writing campaign.[4] Philip Morris attempted to recruit corporate travel agencies, suppliers, British tobacco manufacturers and the British smokers rights group FOREST to join the letter-writing campaign.[5]In another note, Winokur proposed how to further pressure British Airways: "Also think we should consider countervailing grassroots campaign in BA destination countries within the 90 minute radius to both protest to advise BA they'll switch to competitor carriers..."[6]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. C. Donohue, Philip Morris FDA Mobilization Options Memorandum. 4 pp. February 9, 1995. Bates No. 2044771568/1571
  2. British Airways News Release British Airways Press release. August 3, 1993. Bates No. 2024203669
  3. Matthew Winokur, Philip Morris BA Tactics Telex. August 1993. Bates No. 2024203673
  4. Matthew Winokur, Philip Morris Untitled Letter. August 12, 1993. Bates No.2024203674
  5. Matthew Winokur, Philip Morris Untitled Telex/email. August 5, 1993. Bates No. 2024203677
  6. Matthew Winokur, Philip Morris Untitled Email/telex. August 11, 1993. Bates No. 2024203683

External resources

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