Astroturfing, Grassroots and the Tobacco Industry

Need information about tobacco and electronic cigarettes?  You simply go to your computer and type “electronic cigarettes” or “tobacco ” into the search bar of your browser.  But are you getting information from a grassroots organization that can help you make an informed decision, or was the article written by a fake person or group who wants a sympathetic public for their cause?   Fake news seems to be the latest buzz word in the media these days, but astroturfing has been around and seems to be gaining in popularity, even in the tobacco industry.

A prime example of this was found in Australia, the first country in the world to make it mandatory that all cigarette packs adopt a “plain packaging” design to make them look similar and remove individual branding.  Prior to the Australian Tobacco Plain Packaging Act going into effect in December 2011, the Alliance of Australian Retailers (AAR) took out full-page ads against the new law.  This group said they represented those who would be hurt the most by this: “the owners of your local corner stores, milk bars, newsagents and service stations.”  The AAR group was supposedly the mouth for the little people in order for them to be heard.  But leaked documents revealed the tobacco industry was funding the group and had tobacco industry insiders providing input to defeat the law.  Once this information was made public, groups who once sided with the AAR withdrew from it.  The plain packaging law went into effect and has had the outcome the health advocates expected, teen smoking is at its lowest level since 1984, with about 5% of 12-17 year olds reported as current smokers, down from 7% before the law went into effect.  It hasn’t stopped the tobacco industry from continually warning about or threatening the economy with black market cigarettes.

Here in the states, the tobacco industry has always worked behind the scenes setting the tone of tobacco laws.  Back in the 1980s they worked  to create the appearance of a grassroots movement of citizens opposed to tobacco control policies.  In the 1990s the tobacco industry tried to create and fund a ‘smokers’ rights movement.’

The Tea Party is a prime example as they “promote less government regulation and lower taxes,” but special interest groups and corporations behind the scenes are funding, organizing, training, and pulling the strings of those in the front.  Groups set up and funded by the tobacco industry, but implemented by PR firms include, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and FreedomWorks which support the tobacco industry’s agenda to oppose tobacco taxes and smoke-free laws.  FreedomWorks has taken that agenda and trained activists in 30 other “countries including Israel, Georgia, Japan, Nigeria and Serbia.” Other groups that worked for the tobacco industry included CSE (Citizens for a Sound Economy) and NSA (National Smokers’ Alliance).

Publications put out by these groups also “disputed the health effects of secondhand smoke, promoted ‘choice’ and individual rights and encouraged smokers to defend their rights and freedoms.”  They opposed the OSHA regulation of secondhand smoke in the workplace, as well as the FDA regulation of the industry starting in the mid 1990s.  They also opposed the 1994 healthcare reform because of a $0.75 cigarette tax to help fund it.  And any time your state decides to increase the tobacco tax, you can be assured these groups will be opposing that too.  The flow chart above shows the connections the tobacco industry has with organizations and people.

The tobacco industry doesn’t oppose legislation because it’s not fair for smokers, it is because it will effect the tobacco industry’s bottom line.  The next time you see opposition to increase tobacco taxes and protect public health, you have to ask yourself, “who is really behind the curtain?”


To read more about third-party efforts of the tobacco industry, click HERE.
Other sites used include:  Astroturfing
The top image is from the site: Astroturfing
The bottom flow chart is from the site: Tobacco Control















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