The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) is a multi-issue corporate front group that seeks to interfere with public health issues from drunk driving and food safety to secondhand smoke in the workplace. The group was previously called the Guest Choice Network (GCN) and changed its name to Center for Consumer Freedom in 2001.
Center for Consumer Freedom/Guest Choice Network is a long-time Big Tobacco front group led by Richard "Rick" Berman that was literally bought and paid for initially by tobacco giant Philip Morris. As of March 2014, CCF is actively pushing for e-smoking inside of hospitality sector workplaces, just as it long pushed, on behalf of the tobacco industry, for maintaining cigarette smoking inside these shared air spaces. This is a March 2014 op-ed from Sarah Longwell that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle the day of a Board of Supervisors vote on including e-cigarettes in smokefree spaces. Like Rick Berman, Sarah Longwell wears a lot of different hats in the web of Berman & Co organizations. Note that the disclaimer to the article makes no mention of the group's ties to the tobacco industry.
Health advocates, business leaders, and decision-makers need to be aware of the history of CCF and its deep ties to the tobacco industry. Stakeholders should question the credibility of this organization and its spokespersons when they seek to interfere with sound public health policy. Refer to http://www.bermanexposed.org/facts for more information on CCF's financial ties with food and beverage industry corporations.
Guest Choice Network (GCN) was founded in 1995 with Philip Morris seed money. GCN was created to dovetail with Philip Morris' Accommodation Program, a major project t to undermine smokefree indoor air policy efforts by building alliances with restaurants and other hospitality businesses. GCN sought to appear as an independent group sponsored by vs "owned" by Philip Morris. Rick Berman and the GCN helped Philip Morris with strategy, messaging, and outreach to chain restaurant, casinos, and other hospitality sector business. One example is reframing the term "smokers' rights" to "consumer choice."
GCN's stated objective was to "unite the restaurant and hospitality industries in a campaign to defend their consumers and marketing programs against attacks from anti-smoking, anti-drinking, anti-meat, etc. activists." Over the course of four years, Philip Morris contributed at least $2.3 million to sustain the Guest Choice Network. The project helped recruit chain restaurants and other businesses into Philip Morris's Accommodation Program, in part to address the weakness lack of "top gun" restaurant chain restaurant participation in the program at that time.
Mr. Berman pitched the idea of the Guest Choice Network to Philip Morris in 1995. The company met with Rick Berman to establish goals for the program, approved the proposal, and provided an initial payment of $600,000 in December 1995. In 1996, Rick Berman requested additional funding from Philip Morris and received an additional $200,000 in 1996 and $350,000 more in 1997.
The American Beverage Institute, another Berman formed group, is also front group for Philip Morris and its efforts to undermine smokefree indoor air policies for bars and taverns, such as seeking to raise doubt about the health impact of secondhand smoke on bartenders.
Rick Berman explains the rationale for the name "Guest Choice Network" in this September 1995 Philip Morris memo:
He also describes why "Guest Choice Network" (GC) would focus on multiple issues, not just tobacco: