1

Montana Viewpoint: Big Tobacco’s big lies are nothing new

Jim Elliott

Most times I make my decision on how to vote on a ballot initiative by looking to see what groups support it. Sometimes, it works the other way and I will cast my vote based on which groups oppose it. That last is the case on my decision to vote for I-185, the initiative to pay for an expanded Medicaid program by increasing the tax on tobacco products.

The two major contributors (in fact, just about the only contributors) to the anti I-185 campaign are both tobacco companies — companies that have made their profits by lying to the American public about the safety of their product for almost 70 years. That’s a harsh claim, but they’ve earned it.

Altria Client Services, the lobbying arm of the makers of Philip Morris, Marlboro, Skoal, and Copenhagen has pumped $12 million dollars in loans and in-kind contributions into the fight against the initiative. R. J. Reynolds, makers of Camel, Winston, and Salem cigarettes, has contributed a more modest quarter of a million dollars.

In 2002 R. J. Reynolds was fined $15 million for handing out free cigarettes at events attended by children, known in cigarette industry lingo as “replacement smokers”. Altria is now actively engaged in entering the marijuana business.

Montanans Against Tax Hikes, or MATH is the front organization for big tobacco and the recipient of the largest amount of money ever to be used in an initiative campaign in Montana’s history.

I am not going to argue about the statements being made or the advertising being done on either side of the initiative. What I am going to argue is that the tobacco interests are pathological liars and I have no reason to believe they have turned over a new leaf. They are not interested in the health of Montanans, they are not interested in whatever budget problems I-185 may or may not cause in Montana, but they are vitally interested in preserving their unfettered ability to promote and sell a legal and addictive carcinogenic drug delivery system.

And most importantly, they know it is addictive and they know it is carcinogenic and have known (and denied it) since the 1950s. The following quotes are from “Tobacco Explained”, a paper written for the London, England based Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and posted by the World Health Organization at WHO.int/tobacco/media/en/Tobacco explained.pdf. Sure, they’ve got an agenda, but the quotes are from tobacco company internal documents and public testimony, and they contradict each other all over the place.

On the healthiness of cigarettes:

“Studies…tend to confirm the relationship between heavy and prolonged use of tobacco and the incidence of cancer of the lung.” R. J. Reynolds research finding, 1953

“We don’t accept the idea that there are harmful agents in tobacco.” Philip Morris, 1964

They insisted that nicotine was not addictive, even when they knew it was, to preserve their ability to argue from a legal standpoint that people were exercising freedom of choice by smoking, thus absolving the tobacco companies of liability.

“Nicotine is addictive” Brown and Williamson Tobacco, 1963

They discussed how to market “…an addictive product in an ethical manner.” Brown and Williamson, advertising conference, 1967

“I do not believe that nicotine is addictive.” Brown and Williamson CEO testifying to Congress under oath, 1994

They denied that they marketed to children.

An RJ Reynolds Florida sales representative expressed concern that marketing to children was “unethical and maybe illegal”. When someone asked what age children they were targeting the response was: “They got lips? We want them.”

You get the gist. For over half a century tobacco companies have consistently and purposefully lied about facts that they knew to be true, so they could continue to sell an addictive carcinogenic to the unsuspecting public. Why then, should we believe anything they say now?

Jim Elliott served sixteen years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator and four years as chairman of the Montana Democratic Party. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek. Montana Viewpoint appears in weekly papers across Montana and online at missoulacurrent.com.