To try and transform their image among the American public, tobacco companies have been trying to keep much of their lobbying and political donations out of view. The companies now channel campaign donations and lobbying expenses through harder-to-track organizations connected to the candidates they favor, like leadership PACs and 527 groups. Contributions directly to candidates and the committees that support them have decreased by more than $6 million between the 2002 and 2010 election cycles. "One thing the tobacco industry has done is stay out of the public view and disguise its efforts in politics," said Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco and director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. The two highest-ranking Republican leaders in the House of Representatives -- Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) -- are top recipients of tobacco industry money. In the 2010 election cycle, Boehner took almost $50,000 from tobacco interests, and Cantor took $27,850. Boehner, a smoker, voted against the Food and Drug Administration's regulation of tobacco, calling it a "boneheaded idea." Cantor voted in favor of the bill. Altria Group, one of Cantor's biggest campaign contributors, is the parent company of cigarette maker Philip Morris -- the tobacco company that planned and helped draft the regulation, and thus the only company that supported it.
Under U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) Rule 1330.09, U.S. military bases are supposed to sell tobacco products at no more than 5 percent less than the lowest price in surrounding civilian markets, but army and air force bases across the country are routinely violating this rule. An investigation revealed 15 military bases offer discounts on cartons of cigarettes that range from 10 to 40 percent. Those big discounts on cigarettes lead to big costs for taxpayers. Almost 40 percent of smokers in the military say they starting smoking after joining, and in 2008 alone the Veterans Administration spent over $5 billion treating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a tobacco-related illness. Smoking also affects troop readiness by decreasing physical fitness, motor coordination, stamina and increasing the amount of time it takes for wounds to heal. The DOD claims service members use tobacco to relieve stress, but Dr. Benjamin Gonzales, who served in the Air Force and Army for 24 years as a trauma doctor, says nicotine addiction causes the stress and using tobacco just reduces withdrawal symptoms. He says the relationship between tobacco use and price is well documented. An investigation showed that, to set prices, military pricing coordinators look at cigarette prices at other military bases instead of basing prices on those at local stores. For those who comply with Rule 1330.09, some of those "local stores" are as much as five hours away, or on an Indian reservations. When these pricing coordinators were asked if they would stop doing that and set prices as defense policy dictates -- by just looking at prices in the local convenience stores, retailers and gas stations -- they wouldn't give a straight answer.
A recent study of tobacco industry documents reveals that cigarette makers added appetite-suppressing substances to cigarettes and strategized on how to enhance the appetite-suppressing and weight-reducing effects of smoking. In the 1960s, Philip Morris (PM) added tartaric acid to its cigarettes to reduce smokers' appetite. British American Tobacco (BAT) added the same substance to its cigarettes. Another known tobacco additive with appetite-reducing characteristics, 2-acetylepyridine, was referred to in industry documents using code-names and was used as a cigarette ingredient by PM, Brown & Williamson, R.J. Reynolds and BAT. The companies also considered adding ephedrine and amphetamine to cigarettes, but these chemicals were not found in their ingredients lists. Cigarette makers strategized that they could get away with adding appetite-suppressing chemicals to cigarettes as long as they made no overt health claims about their effects to the public. In a 1969 memo, Helmut Wakeham, PM's scientific director, in response to a question about introducing specific substances into cigarettes, explained that "FDA [has] no requirements until a health claim is made. Then there must be studies on safety, efficacy, mechanism of action, metabolism, etc. If a substance is simply added to a product and no claims are made there is not need for FDA approval.
A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientific advisory panel handed FDA the information it needs to add menthol to the list of flavorings banned in cigarettes. After a year of studying the cigarette additive menthol, the FDA's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee on March 19, 2011 released a long-awaited report (pdf) that concludes menthol is more than just a flavoring agent; it has chemical effects that increase the probability of addiction. The panel wrote, "Menthol cannot be considered merely a flavoring additive to tobacco. Its pharmacological actions reduce the harshness of smoke and the irritation from nicotine, and may increase the likelihood of nicotine addiction in adolescents and young adults who experiment with smoking." The panel specifically cited menthol's effects on youth, saying "the distinct sensory characteristics of menthol may enhance the addictiveness of menthol cigarettes, which appears to be the case among youth." The report concludes that "Removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States." Despite this conclusion, the panel failed to recommend FDA take steps to remove menthol from cigarettes. Tobacco companies brushed off the report, since their political and legal might makes them a bulwark against any government effort to ban menthol. The report was so inconsequential to the industry, in fact, that tobacco company stock prices actually jumped after the report was released.
Family Circle and Parents magazines regularly run youth smoking prevention (YSP) ads called "Real Parents, Real Answers" that are paid for by the Lorillard Tobacco Company. The ads drive readers to a website operated by Lorillard that contains no information about the health hazards of cigarette smoking, the addictive nature of nicotine or cigarette companies' role in promoting youth smoking through advertising and marketing techniques. Instead, the site blames kids' smoking on parents, citing kids' rebelliousness and self-esteem as being at the core of the youth smoking problem. Research shows that tobacco company-run YSP campaigns are ineffective, and in 2006 a federal judge ruled that such campaigns are merely public relations stunts by tobacco companies to improve their image. Tobacco industry documents show that cigarette makers design YSP campaigns to impress political leaders and give the appearance that the industry is being "responsible," not to reduce youth smoking rates. The web site Change.org and a new group called the Start Noticing Coalition are working to pressure the Meredith Corporation, publisher of Parents and Family Circle, to acknowledge these facts and stop running the ads, but Meredith refused, saying the ads are "appropriate" for its magazines, so Change.org started an online petition to increase pressure on the publisher to stop accepting the ads.
The Rite Aid drug store chain announced that it is once again teaming with the American Heart Association (AHA) to promote AHA's "Go Red for Women" campaign. Rite Aid collects donations of one dollar or more from customers in exchange for little red paper dresses that contain detachable coupons for merchandise. Rite Aid issued a press release touting the campaign and their free "heart health guide" that contains advice on how to prevent heart disease. Absent from the promotion and the press release, and kept quiet by AHA, is the fact that Rite Aid contributes mightily to causing heart disease in women by selling cigarettes.
Lorillard, Inc., manufacturer of the country's best-selling menthol cigarette, Newport, is working behind the scenes to keep the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from banning menthol as a cigarette flavorant. Adopting a PR tactic other embattled companies like Bank of America and Altria have used, Lorillard is scooping up a host of menthol-bashing domain names to keep them out of the hands of critics, including MentholKills.com, KillerMenthol.com, MentholKillsMinorities.com and MentholAddictsYouth.com. Menthol acts as a mild local anesthetic in the throat, which critics say masks the harsh taste of cigarettes and makes them more appealing to younger users. Studies show that menthol cigarettes are disproportionately popular among African Americans, a group that also has a higher rate of smoking-related disease than the general population. An FDA advisory panel is scheduled to decide in March whether to
recommend ditching menthol in cigarettes across the board, including
Lorillard's flagship brand. Congress passed legislation in 2009 giving FDA more power to regulate tobacco, including artificial flavorants.
Steven Antin's new movie, Burlesque (PG-13), features about twenty different brands of products, including gratuitous use of R.J. Reynolds' Camel cigarettes. Other films that have showcased cigarettes this year include the Disney film The Sorcerer's Apprentice (rated PG, which features Newport cigarettes), and For Colored Girls (rated R, by Lionsgate, which features Marlboros). States are now spending millions to subsidize the production of movies, meaning taxpayers are not only paying to help big companies advertise their products, but they are also helping pay to showcase smoking -- a harmful addiction that many states are simultaneously spending millions to reduce. California taxpayers shelled out $7.2 million to subsidize the movie Burlesque alone, which not only features gratuitous smoking, but also showcases a slew of other brands, including Famous Amos cookies (the character Jack holds a box over his genitals), Dos Equis beer, Michelob, Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs, Oreos, KitchenAid, Ultimat Vodka, Coldwell Banker, Chase Bank, Patron Tequila and many more.
A Massachusetts jury has ordered cigarette maker Lorillard, Inc. to pay $71 million in damages to the family of a Boston woman who said she was seduced into smoking Newport cigarettes as a child. The plaintiff, Marie Evans, died from lung cancer at age 54, after smoking Newport cigarettes for 40 years. Before her death, she gave a videotaped deposition in which described how, starting at age nine, she received free samples of cigarettes from a man in a white truck who would drive through their neighborhood passing them out to children. Evans said the trucks "seemed to be there waiting when we got out of school." Evans' sister, Leslie Adamson, corroborated her testimony. Evans accepted some responsibility for never being able to quit her nicotine addiction, even after suffering a heart attack at age 37. Lorillard denied marketing cigarettes to children and targeting black communities with Newports.
Philip Morris (PM) broke from its longstanding policy of never settling a personal injury case recently after it quietly paid $5 million to settle a wrongful death suit brought against its subsidiary, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco (USST), maker of Copenhagen and Skoal brands of spit tobacco. PM's parent company, Altria Group, acquired USST in 2009.
Kelly June Hill sued USST on behalf of her son, Bobby Hill, who died of oral cancer in 2003 at age 42. Bobby got addicted to spit tobacco as a child, long before health warning labels were put on the product in 1987. In the course of the case, USST dumped a half million pages of documents on the plaintiffs lawyers, which, by Hill's attorneys' own account, made searching for helpful material quite interesting.