Tobacco industry front groups
This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.
Tobacco industry front groups are organizations or coalitions created and/or funded by tobacco companies, their surrogate trade and lobbying groups or public relations contractors, for the purpose of advancing the financial and policy interests of the industry. These groups' ties to tobacco are usually hidden or minimized.
The tobacco industry uses front groups to create the appearance that a broad-based public constituency in support of their issues exists. The groups are then used to influence opinion leaders, legislators, regulators or public opinion in general, and to make it look like a wide range of apparently unrelated third parties support tobacco industry positions.
Smokers rights front groups
Tobacco industry front groups include smokers rights groups like the National Smokers Alliance, funded by Philip Morris and organized through its public relations contractor Burson-Marsteller, and FOREST, an acronym that stands for Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco, a group that has been active in the United Kingdom and has been backed financially by British American Tobacco. R.J. Reynolds also established and fostered smokers rights groups throughout the U.S. through its Partisan Project, which had the goal of establishing a network of highly organized smokers rights groups throughout the 50 U.S. states.
Tobacco companies used smokers rights groups to create grassroots networks that it can quickly and easily mobilize to oppose smoking restrictions. Such groups can operate essentially as product-free arms of the tobacco companies that have the advantage of commenting on tobacco issues without concern for liability or commercial considerations, such as backlash against a company's brands or stocks.
Research front groups
The tobacco industry has repeatedly formed and financed biomedical research front groups with the goal of generating a body of published academic research about tobacco that does not harm the industry, and that helps advance industry positions on a wide range of issues. Examples of research front groups include the Tobacco Industry Research Committee, which was succeeded by the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR), the Center for Indoor Air Research (CIAR), which produced industry-favorable research on indoor air quality to refute accusations about the health hazards of secondhand smoke. CIAR was ordered to disband as a term of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement reached between 46 U.S. states and the American tobacco companies. After the settlement forced its closure in 1998, however, CIAR was replaced by the Philip Morris External Research Program (PMERP), whose structure, address and manager are the same as CIAR, and but which considers a wider range of issues than CIAR, whose mandate was limited to indoor air studies.
Election front groups
The tobacco industry also creates issue front groups to defeat ballot measures that are adverse to tobacco use, like cigarette excise taxes and indoor smoking restrictions. Examples of front groups the industry has created to influence elections include Oregonians Against the Blank Check, Californians for Fair Business Policy, the California Business and Restaurant Alliance, the Beverly Hills Restaurant Association and Restaurants for a Sound Voluntary Policy. These organizations typically lend their names to a barrage of television advertisements and mailers against the proposed initiative around election time. Ads run by these groups never mention the subject of health. Tobacco industry election front groups are usually run by professional campaign and grassroots organizers, or lobbying or public relations companies like Mark Nelson's Public Affairs Counsel in Oregon, or the PR company the Dolphin Group in California.
Hospitality front groups
A key to preserving smoking is preserving public environments that support, facilitate and encourage smoking behavior. Thus, hospitality venues became an important battleground for tobacco companies. The battle to eliminate secondhand smoke from indoor venues has led tobacco companies to form hospitality front groups and recruit third-party coalitions from among hospitality businesses, such as restaurants, hotels and bars.
Tobacco companies cannot credibly advocate preserving smoking in public places, since such a move would be seen as self-serving. Also, the hospitality industry isn't a natural ally to the tobacco industry, since hospitality venues don't usually sell tobacco products. It is also much less expensive and complicated for a hospitality venue to simply eliminate smoking in their facilities entirely than to install expensive ventilation systems that require costly maintenance regimens. Thus tobacco companies faced a very different set problems in creating allies among the hospitality industry. Philip Morris (PM), for example, knew that its own issues were not a priority for the hospitality industry. In spite of these barriers, PM devised an intricate plan to "become a player inside the [hospitality] industry, promote common ground and vested interests, make strategic investment toward relationship building, [engage in] sponsorships, programs, [and] develop strong visibility, credibility, and recognition" in this other industry. By PM's own admission, the hospitality industry already faced an "overwhelming amount of business and regulatory issues" --yet PM pushed ahead in fostering allies among hospitality venues to coerce them into advancing PM interests. A January, 1995 Philip Morris presentation titled Philip Morris and the Hospitality Industry Our Mission: to Maintain the Ability for Our Consumers to Enjoy Our Products in Public Venues says that PM's Accommodation Program (which it implemented strictly in hospitality venues) provided PM with a "vehicle for us to get our foot in the door with the hospitality industry...Enables us to...develop allies...[and] Serves as a communications platform for PM on the issue of smoking in public places."
By "activating" the hospitality industry on its issues, PM worked to fulfill legislative objectives that supported the cigarette business:
"PM's Legislative Objective:...Defeat all severely restrictive legislation/regulation....Overturn existing legislation that severely restricts smoking."
Examples of tobacco industry-created or backed hospitality front groups include the Guest Choice Network operated by Rick Berman, The American Beverage Institute, and local bar and tavern associations that suddenly crop up to oppose smoke-free ordinances.
Sociological front groups
An example of a sociological front group formed by the industry is Associates for Research into the Science of Enjoyment, a group primarily composed of sociologists, psychologists and political scientists that was active in Europe between 1988 and 1999. ARISE claimed that stress-relieving activities like shopping, drinking tea, eating chocolate and smoking cigarettes (the latter was always grouped with the former less harmful activities) were essential to preserving health.
A 1993 internal Philip Morris document titled "New Project" proposed setting up a new front group called "Parents for Priorities" to distract attention away from tobacco issues and fight public health efforts to control tobacco. The purpose of PM's "parental group," according to the document, would be to "redirect the priorities of elected officials" and "force elected officials and anti-smoking organizations to focus on important public/community issues such as crime and education" (and not tobacco).
The paper explains,
"For example, when [New York City activist] Joe Cherner offered a million dollars to the city of New York for anti-smoking advertisements, the parental group could challenge him to redirect these funds for more important community issues such as buying guns off the streets..."
The proposal says the parental group could be supported financially via "existing 501(c)(3) organizations," a technique which would effectively hide Philip Morris' involvement in the group's formation and activities.
Another sociological front group formed by the industry was the "Family C.O.U.R.S.E. Consortium," a nonprofit group organized by the Tobacco Institute circa 1992 to serve as a more credible front for promoting the Institute's youth non-smoking program "Helping Youth Decide." C.O.U.R.S.E. stood for "Communication through Open minds, Understanding, Respect and Self-Esteem." The group nominally consisted of "educational experts" who "joined together to promote the importance of communication in helping young people develop into responsible adults." The youth non-smoking program focused on "communication" and dealing with peer pressure rather than the health effects of tobacco. The Institute used the Family COURSE Consortium as a credible mouthpiece to run ads promoting its youth nonsmoking programs, and to increase the credibility of these programs to legislators and the public.
Junk science front groups
Tobacco companies form groups of seemingly independent "scientific experts" to help debunk scientific conclusions about their products and their health effects. An example of tobacco company-formed junk science groups include The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC), formed by Philip Morris in 1993 to discredit research concluding that secondhand tobacco smoke could cause illness in nonsmokers. Another example is Healthy Buildings International, a business specializing in heating, cooling and ventilation in commercial buildings whose employees routinely counseled that tobacco smoke was only a minor part of indoor air pollution problems, and that all such problems could be solved with improved ventilation systems.
Related SourceWatch resources
- Beverly Hills Restaurant Association
- Philip Morris' Ventilation Task Force
- Philip Morris Corporate Affairs
- Tobaccoscam How Big Tobacco uses and abuses the restaurant industry
- Philip Morris and the Hospitality Industry: Our Mission: to Maintain the Ability for Our Consumers to Enjoy Our Products in Public Venues, January 1995 (estimated date). Philip Morris collection, Bates No.2045517304/7316
- New Project, Philip Morris internal report, estimated date April, 1993. Bates No. 2046662829/2837, 9 pp
- Family C.O.U.R.S.E. Consortium descriptive brochure, undated, Tobacco Institute Bates No. TIMN0196136
- Tobacco Industry Youth Smoking Prevention Programs: Protecting the Industry and Hurting Tobacco Control, Landman A, Ling P, Glantz S. Am J Public Health. 2002 June; 92(6): 917–930.
- Follow the Money: Exposing Big Tobacco Front Groups, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, November 2004.