What are tobacco industry front groups and allies?
Big Tobacco has a long history of hiding behind third party organizations or creating its own front groups to fight smokefree policies and other tobacco control efforts. This strategy keeps the tobacco industry out of the public eye, behind the scenes, while still achieving its agenda.
Business rights organizations, libertarian groups, think tanks, and other organizations or individuals that are opposed to government involvement in privately-owned businesses are often vocal opponents of smokefree laws and tobacco control policies. These opposition groups, front groups, and allies are sometimes funded by the tobacco industry.
This page provides profiles of some of these organizations.
More recently, other industries have joined the front group game, such as the marijuana, casino, and vaping industries. Following Big Tobacco’s Interference Playbook, these industries are seeking to undermine public health policies that would create smokefree, vape-free, and marijuana-free public places.
ANR Foundation will continue to provide profiles and information to shine the light on this tactic.
AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL (ALEC)
Big Tobacco has long sought to use front groups to do its dirty work. After all, tobacco companies don’t have much credibility to directly oppose public health campaigns. Funding research and policy efforts through third-party front groups is a way to create a veneer of academic or political credibility and to raise doubt about legitimate research, while shrouding ties to the tobacco industry.
One such long-time tobacco front group is called ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council. Its members and funders have included Lorillard Tobacco Company, Philip Morris Management Corporation, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Smokeless Tobacco Council, Cigar Association of America, Inc., and, more recently, NJOY – an e-cigarette company.
For years the tobacco industry has been one of ALEC’s chief underwriters. The nation’s major tobacco companies have given large cash contributions in the range of $200,000 a year, sponsored golf and tennis events at ALEC meetings, and paid legal bills for them. In fact, in some years the money ALEC received just from tobacco “sponsorships” overshadowed all other sponsor contributions combined.
“ALEC has a history of receiving substantial funding from the tobacco industry, in return for which it has promoted legislation interfering with local control, nonsmokers’ rights, and health policy,” according to Rebekah Wilce, Reporter and Researcher at The Center for Media and Democracy. Her organization publishes an excellent website resource called ALEC Exposed.
One legislative priority for ALEC is state preemption of local health and safety laws.
Preemptive legislation may sometimes look like good public health policy on the surface, but it often sets a weak state standard AND makes it illegal for cities and counties to enact stronger laws. For example, a state may enact a law creating non-smoking sections in workplaces and public places but then prohibit local governments from requiring those places to be 100% smokefree. Philip Morris and other tobacco companies have long sought preemption of local smokefree laws. ALEC has pushed for preemption not only of smokefree workplace policies, but also with respect to a range of other public health and community issues, including local pesticide ordinances, workers’ rights, and rent control. ALEC is currently working with former Philip Morris smokefree preemption partner, the National Restaurant Association, to push for preemption of local “living wage” laws.
An organization related to ALEC is an influential group called the “State Policy Network,” which helps link together libertarian think tanks with an ALEC-backed agenda.
While the names of tobacco industry front groups may have changed somewhat, their interference tactics remain the same. By exposing ALEC as a front group for the tobacco industry (and, increasingly, for e-cigarette companies), you can help others take the misinformation promoted by this group with a grain of salt.
THE HEARTLAND INSTITUTE
The Heartland Institute is a longtime paid partner of the tobacco industry, with a relationship going back to the 1990’s working to raise doubt about legitimate science of secondhand smoke health risks and to undermine smokefree laws.
On their website, Institute President Joseph L. Bast misleadingly states that they are a “genuinely independent source of research.” Internal industry documents expose Philip Morris contributions to the Heartland Institute totaling over $150,000 in 1997, 1998, and 1999.
Philip Morris and Brown & Williamson Tobacco are also listed as generous sponsors contributing at least $10,000 to the Heartland Institute’s 10th Anniversary Benefit held in 1994.
A 1999 letter to Philip Morris, penned from the Heartland Institute, describes the group’s efforts and seeking additional funding.
In December 2006, the National Association of Tobacco Outlets announced a multi-year partnership project with Heartland Institute to influence public opinion on tobacco issues. “The project is expected to be a multi-year effort beginning in 2007, and will include press releases, letters to editors and a campaign to win coverage in magazines and journals,” according to National Association of Tobacco Outlets president Tom Briant in a press release.
It is always a good idea to know what tobacco industry front groups like the Heartland Institute are up to. Explore their “Smokers Lounge,” where they post misinformation about secondhand smoke, letters to the editor, sample talking points, anecdotal stories intended to encourage opposition of smokefree air policy, and links to smokers’ rights groups.
Sourcewatch highlights other ties between Heartland Institute and the tobacco industry:
“Roy E. Marden, a former member of Heartland’s board of directors, was until May 2003 the manager of industry affairs for the Philip Morris (PM) tobacco company, where his responsibilities included lobbying and “managing company responses to key public policy issues,” which he accomplishes by “directing corporate involvement with industry, business, trade, and public policy organizations and determining philanthropic support thereto.” In a May 1991 document prepared for PM, Marden listed Heartland’s “rapid response network” as a “potential spokesperson” among the “portfolio of organizations” that the company had cultivated to support its interests.”