Category Archives: Tobacco Industry

Think Progress: The gun industry watched what happened to the tobacco industry and took notice

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A very compelling read from Think Progress about how the gun industry watched regulators and the legal justice system cratered Big Tobacco, prompting the gun industry to take steps to make sure the same thing couldn’t happen to it.

Big Tobacco, while still vastly wealthy, is not nearly the political powerhouse that it was 25 years ago. The adult smoking rate has dropped from 42 percent to 17 percent in the U.S. over the past 50 years, smoking advertising has been seriously curtailed and few workplaces allow smoking anymore. Two things helped destroy Big Tobacco’s political influence — regulations and lawsuits. Big Tobacco fought, which minimal success (some, but not much), smoking bans, first on airplanes (a battle the industry ultimately lost) and then in restaurants and then in bars.  Now, more than 30 states have total smoking bans, another handful of states have smoking bans in restaurants and even in those states without smoking bans, most major cities have banned smoking in bars and restaurants.

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In the courtrooms, Big Tobacco really got spanked. The industry won lawsuit after lawsuit for years until through the discovery process in many of these lawsuits, internal industry documents were released showing that Big Tobacco absolutely knew since the 1950s that cigarettes caused cancer and were physically addictive and showed that for decades, the industry has been trying to market to teenagers.

Because of the release of these documents, Big Tobacco actually started losing lawsuits. A bunch of state’s attorneys general filed suit because of the costs of smoking to their Medicaid programs, and rather than fight these lawsuits and potentially lose, Big Tobacco agreed to the $280 billion Master Settlement agreement in 1998. Today, the tobacco industry continues to get nailed with lawsuits, a lot of them in Florida, costing them millions in legal fees and eventual settlements (though the industry is well-known for dragging these settlements out for years through appeals, people have received multi-million jury settlements.).

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The gun industry sat back and watched and took action to make sure the same thing couldn’t happen to it. The gun industry was facing similar types of class-action lawsuits which eventually crippled Big Tobacco politically.

From the Think Progress article:

Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, told ThinkProgress that the NRA was “very afraid of the parallel between gun litigation and tobacco litigation, so it preempted that.” Through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — the secretive free-market lobbying group that brings together conservative politicians and major corporate interests including the tobacco and gun lobbies — it pushed a “Defense of Free Market and Public Safety Resolution” to hurt Smith & Wesson’s ability to sell to law enforcement.

“ALEC helped to try to punish the one component of the industry that agreed to these measures,” Graves recalled, discouraging local police “from buying guns from Smith & Wesson — for daring to go along with safety [measures] designed to keep kids safe.”

When the NRA’s preferred candidate, George W. Bush, was inaugurated in January 2001, his new HUD secretary Mel Martinez quickly ended the department’s involvement in the lawsuits (the NRA strongly endorsed him three years later in his campaign for U.S. Senate in Florida). ALEC and the NRA worked at the same time to successfully encourage many states to prohibit local lawsuits against the gun and ammo industries.

Next, the NRA and its Congressional allies set about eliminating the threat of state or local action, once and for all. In 2005, Bush signed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which effectively shielded the gun industry from legal liability when their products are used in criminal and unlawful activities.

So, the gun industry made sure to get legislation passed to make sure something like the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement or the Engle case in Florida could ever happen to it.

From the article:

A decade later, the law has been used to stop virtually all efforts to hold gun companies liable in court.

“I think that, had the really powerful litigation run its course, we would have had the same success on guns” as on tobacco, Graves said. “That tobacco litigation was historic… They were able to make some substantial progress and change the future — having information out there, showing how evilly the tobacco companies were behaving. So there was an effort to stop that for guns, which have huge number of deaths and injuries. We haven’t seen the same progress as you would have had these been allowed to go forward. ”

But the industry didn’t stop there. The gun industry also through legislation clamped down on research into gun violence. It was scientific research done by the Centers for Disease Control that helped break Big Tobacco’s power.

From the article:

Thanks to a 1996 law, pushed by the NRA and one of its life members, then-Rep. Jay Dickey (R-AR), the federal government does not do the same kind of in-depth research on gun violence and its prevention. The “Dickey Amendment” stipulated that no funds “made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” A 2012 appropriations law put similar restrictions on NIH funding for that year.

Though the NRA claims this was not its intent, the effect of the amendment was not simply that the CDC did not advocate for gun control, it stopped the Centers from doing almost any research on gun violence. And, according to a 2011 New York Times story, before the few remaining firearm-related studies funded by the CDC get published, the NRA gets a heads up “as a courtesy.”

Ted Alcorn, research director at Everytown for Gun Safety, told ThinkProgress in an email that his organization’s research has found that “after the gun lobby’s attacks on the Centers for Disease Control in the mid-1990s, the agency’s funding for public health research on gun violence fell more than 95 percent and publications in the field dried up.” Though groups like Everytown have worked to fill the gap, the lack of federal research has made progress on gun safety even more challenging.

The article also points out that while most doctors will talk to patients about their smoking, laws are being passed (Florida) prohibiting doctors from asking patients if they have a gun in the house. And it points out that while the majority of states and vast majority of cities have smoking bans, more and more states are passing laws allowing the open carrying of guns. Really, there’s never been a better time than now to be a gun owner in the U.S.

Thanks, unfortunately, to the lessons learned by the gun industry while watching the gutting of the tobacco industry’s political power.

 

“Merchants of Doubt”: Big Oil, Big Chemical take a lesson from Big Tobacco

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I have put this documentary in my Netflix queue, though I have a feeling it will be really bad for my blood pressure. This is a documentary by the Robert Kenner, who also made “Food, Inc.” about how the oil industry, chemical industry and pharmaceutical companies have copied the same techniques used for many years by Big Tobacco to “change the narrative” about the dangers of their product (in the case of the oil industry, global warming), by sowing the seeds of doubt and confusion in the American product. The movie has the same title of a book I have to get my hands on by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.

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The purveyors of doubt have been extremely successful in shaping public opinion on global warming, unfortunately, by creating the idea that “there is no scientific consensus” that man is causing climate change, even though 97 percent of scientists involved in the fields of climate, meteorology, etc., have actually reached this consensus. By finding a few loud voices (and likely paying some of those voices handsomely) to rail against the consensus, the industry has pretty effectively changed the discourse and changed public attitudes about global warming. Most polls show roughly half of respondents don’t believe mankind is creating the problem of global warming.

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Tobacco was very successful in its campaign to confuse the public for decades. For years, Big Tobacco found its own scientists to refute the growing evidence that cigarettes were behind the epidemic of lung cancer cases that began around the 1930s (roughly 30 years after cigarettes starting becoming popular.). Some of the same exact people who cut their teeth in a massive disinformation campaign for tobacco actually went on to work for the chemical industry and oil industry.

From a New York Times review of “Merchants of Doubt”:

“If you can ‘do tobacco,’ ” one of the perpetrators is quoted as saying, “you can do just about anything in public relations.”

The awesome book, “A Cigarette Century” chronicles in exquisite detail the steps that the tobacco industry went to counter the concerns over cigarettes. The U.S. Surgeon General’s report on lung cancer and smoking came out way back in 1964 and you would have thought this would be the death knell for the tobacco industry. Yet, the smoking rate remained stubbornly high over the next 30 years. Why? Doubt. Confusion. Paid shills. No one knew what to believe.

The tobacco industry established its own laboratories and did its own research, partly to generate data it believed would disprove the fears over lung cancer and smoking. Instead, the tobacco industry’s own data confirmed those fears and the industry kept this information under wraps for decades until it finally came gushing out in the 1980s and 1990s mostly through the discovery process of numerous lawsuits against the tobacco industry.

Meanwhile, the industry continued to maintain the safety of its products, putting filters on the cigarettes (which essentially do nothing) and having doctors in ads and promoting their products as safer than other brands. Incredibly, as late as the mid-1990s, tobacco executives continued to insist during congressional hearings that nicotine was not addictive, despite the reams and reams of evidence proving otherwise.

Like I said, this movie will not be good for my blood pressure. One of the reasons I get so worked up about it was arguing with my mom after my dad died of lung cancer at 49. First, she insisted that it was Hodgkin’s disease, not lung cancer from the four packs a day he smoked. Then, she claimed if he got lung cancer, it was from air pollution. The “air pollution is causing the epidemic of lung cancer” line is  STRAIGHT out of the Big Tobacco disinformation campaign from the 1950s. Twenty-five years later, that stuck in my mom’s head. Twenty-five years later, she used that as a rationale to continue smoking and now she is dealing with severe COPD.

Sigh. The lies people tell. And the people that listen to them.

 

 

CVS Pharmacies to ban cigarette sales, other tobacco products

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In the words of Joe Biden … this is a big fucking deal.

CVS Pharmacies, the second biggest drug store chain in the country, will no longer sell any tobacco products in its 7,600 stores across the country. This means CVS will lose $2 billion a year in sales revenues … 1.6 percent of its total revenues every year. That’s a serious decision to just walk away from $2 billion a year retail.

Larry J. Merlo, the president and chief executive officer of CVS Caremark, said “As the delivery of healthcare evolves with an emphasis on better health outcomes, reducing chronic disease and controlling costs, CVS Caremark is playing an expanded role in providing care,” He added. “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”

From the L.A. Times:

Making cigarettes available in pharmacies in essence ‘renormalizes’ the product by sending the subtle message that it cannot be all that unhealthy if it is available for purchase where medicines are sold,” the company’s chief medical officer, Dr. Troyen Brennan, wrote in a new article in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. The article is co-authored by Dr. Steven Schroeder, director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at UC San Francisco.

Walgreens is the largest drug store chain in the country. In response to the CVS decision, Walgreens issued a statement saying it is “reviewing” tobacco sales at its stores.

It is pretty bizarre that a drug store would be selling cigarettes, when that drug store is selling probably all kinds of drugs and treatments for COPD and various cancers caused by cigarette smoking.

A great move that I applaud.

Tobacco companies must place full-page ads admitting they lied

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Interesting and to me surprising story.

This week, several tobacco companies — RJ Reynolds, Altria (Philip Morris) — agreed with the Justice Department to print “corrective statements” in major newspapers around the U.S. admitting that they lied for many years about the health effects of smoking.

These full-page ads will appear in the Sunday editions of 35 newspapers. In addition, the tobacco companies have to post articles on the newspapers’ websites and on their own websites admitting their lies. On top of that, there will be television commercials as well.

A long way from the early 1990s, when tobacco executives testifying before Congress continued to claim that nicotine wasn’t addictive and that there was no proof smoking caused lung cancer (Yup, they kept claiming this right into the ’90s.)

This agreement is part of a 15-year-long racketeering case being pursued by the Justice Department against the tobacco industry.

The five lies the industry will be forced to publicly admit:

The five corrective statements will address the companies’ deceptions regarding 1) the health effects of smoking; 2) the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine; 3) the false advertising of low-tar and light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes; 4) the designing of cigarettes to enhance the delivery of nicotine; and 5) the health effects of secondhand smoke.

Oh, No. 5 is a hoot. Reminds me all the old arguments I’ve had with smokers’ right’s nuts that secondhand smoke is completely harmless. Dave Hitt, FORCES, the Heartland Institute will not be happy with these full-page ads.

I mean does this make any difference? It won’t undo the damage done and bring people back to life. But, I think it’s important that these lies are exposed once and for all (and I’m serious, there are still people to this day arguing that secondhand smoke is harmless). It’s all about maintaining the legacy of the “cigarette century,” a century in which untold millions died from their tobacco addiction, and the industry’s cover-up of that holocaust. Ultimately, that’s how we will win.