Thursday, May 26, 2011

Irredeemable Deplorability

  Around the time big tobacco introduced its first youth-access programs, anti-tobacco advocates had given up trying to beat the industry at the state and federal levels. These higher levels of government were too tightly controlled by the industry and were no longer very responsive to activists. So anti-tobacco proponents had begun approaching their city council members, who were more responsive and less likely to be swayed by corporate influence. Smoking bans had started to appear in local jurisdictions around the country, and progress had been made in getting smoking out of restaurants and workplaces.
  Alarmed by the shift, the tobacco industry realized it was vulnerable. Because it had no similar grassroots networks to oppose these local efforts, it started retailer programs like It's the Law, We Card to defeat them.
  Youth programs served the industry on several levels. They gave it cover against the charge that it targeted kids, and they generated goodwill among legislators. But these retailer programs also served another function: They gave the industry an opening to have company representatives conduct personal visits with retailers all over the country. Under the guise of instructing retailers to check for IDs as part of a youth-access program, industry representatives asked retailers to monitor political activity in their towns and paid them to report back to the Tobacco Institute at the first appearance of any problems (like citizens pushing for a smoking ban) so the institute could mobilize.
  An institute document made public years later stated, "For monitoring purposes, we fund our allies in the convenience store groups to regularly report on ordinance introductions and assist in campaigns to stop unreasonable measures... Promotion of the Institute's It's the Law program and other industry programs play a helpful role."
  Retailers as well as restaurant and bar owners across the country started phoning the Tobacco Institute to let it know about "trouble" in their area, and the industry responded by flying representatives to those towns to generate and coordinate strident opposition- or at least the appearance of strident opposition- to the anti-smoking efforts.
  In addition to using youth programs to help fight smoking bans, the industry used them to help fight cigarette taxes and marketing restrictions. The programs also generated goodwill with the governments of some foreign countries and even allowed Philip Morris to partner with foreign health ministries. In 2001 the company announced that it was "actively involved in more than 130 [youth-smoking prevention] programs in more than 70 countries."  -from "Deadly Spin" by Wendell Potter