Paying for the Rope That Hangs Them

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anti-tobacco ultra-PC crusade being conducted by the immodestly
named group "Truth"
employs a "gritty, underground style" of advertising.
For example, one ad called "The Body Bag," features a
protest in front of a tobacco company conducted by teenagers who
pile up body bags six-feet high in order to symbolize "the
1,200 people who die in the U.S. from tobacco use each day."
Much can be said of The Truth's moralistic in-your-face strategy,
including how it conflates a contributing factor with a cause. I
prefer to ask an age-old question: from where does the money come?
The Truth movement claims to have been "launched by America's
youth." So where do teenagers get the multi-millions of dollars
required to conduct the slick ad campaigns and the guerilla-tactic
training camps for anti-tobacco activists? Who finances the professionally
designed site, the staff, the nationally syndicated hip-hop radio
show TRUTH-FM, the phone lines…?

In the Truth FAQ page (frequently asked questions), an answer to
this pecuniary puzzle appears: "We get all of our money from
The American Legacy Foundation"
(ALF), an anti-smoking organization founded as the result of the
$206 billion Master Settlement Agreement of 1998 between the government
and the tobacco industry. All of ALF's money (it is a $1.45 billion
foundation) comes from these "tobacco dollars." This casts
a different light on another Truth TV ad in which teenagers telephone
Hollywood producers who make films in which characters smoke: tobacco
companies usually pay a fee to the film makers if their specific
brands are featured. In the Truth ad, the teens demand to know why
the producers are taking "tobacco dollars." Hollywood
moguls should have replied, "We figured it was okay since you've
been doing the same thing."

Unfortunately, the source of Truth's funding has been difficult
to track down until recently, thus depriving smoker's rights advocates
of such a response. In July 2000, the Capital
Research Center
(CRC) ran an article by Martin Morse Wooster,
author of "Return to Charity? Philanthropy and the Welfare
State." The article entitled "The American Legacy Foundation's
u2018Truth Campaign':
Using Tobacco Funds for Anti-Smoking Ads
" amounted to an
expose. True to the CRC's mission to revive "the American traditions
of charity, philanthropy, and voluntarism", Wooster analyzed
Truth and ALF – institutions that shape opinion – in order to inform
the public about how they are funded and whether they abide by their
own stated policies.

Lamentably, the question of how Truth and ALF are funded is likely
to raise little public controversy despite the rampant hypocrisy
of the former's ad campaign. Forcing companies to foot the bill
for propaganda campaigns that vilify them is now established practice
backed up by court precedent. Blaming companies for the dangers
related to their products – however clearly those dangers are
labeled or known by consumers – is just one more indication
of how thoroughly personal responsibility has been eroded in our
society. Indeed, the erosion is so severe that when The Onion
– a site devoted to satire – ran an article entitled "Hershey's
Ordered to Pay Obese Americans $135 Billion
" many individuals
and lists to whom it was forwarded thought the "news"
item was serious. PC campaigns have become so absurd that the venerable
tradition of political parody is now close to impossible to practice
in America.

Attention shifts, therefore, to the CRC's second focus, the question
of whether institutions like ALF abide by their own stated policies
and legal restrictions. By the terms of the sixth section of the
Master Settlement Agreement of 1998, tobacco manufacturers agreed
to support education programs aimed at reducing youth substance
abuse. Clause (h) of this section places restrictions on what ALF
may do. For example, the grant making arm of ALF – from which Truth
is funded – may not conduct education or advertising that constitutes
a "vilification of, any person (whether by name or business
affiliation), company or governmental agency, whether individually
or collectively." It is difficult to argue with honesty that
Truth ads such as "The Lie Detector" do not vilify both
specific tobacco companies and individuals. In this piece of propaganda,
a teenager descends upon Phillip Morris in order to hook up executives
to a lie detector machine that will determine if they are liars.
When Phillip Morris claimed that the ad violated the anti-vilification
clause of the court settlement, their logo was removed from the
ad. Only when the Attorney General of North Carolina wrote to ALF
and warned that the ad jeopardized its funding was "The Lie
Detector" withdrawn. Vilifying statements on web sites still
remain. For example, Truth claims that it is not "cool"
to "screw up" your body "so some corporate guy in
a suit can afford another Lexus."

Perhaps fear of losing "tobacco dollars" is behind some
of the rather incredible statements made by Truth and ALF. Another
restriction placed on ALF section six reads: "The Foundation
shall not engage in, nor shall any of the Foundation's money be
used to engage in, any political activities or lobbying, including,
but not limited to, support of or opposition to candidates, ballot
initiatives, referenda or other activities." Thus, Truth is
"officially" nonpolitical. Question 5 of Truth's FAQ is:
"Where do you guys get off trying to tell me how to live my
life? If I want to smoke that's my own decision." The answer:
"Chill. We totally respect people's freedom of choice –
different strokes for different folks, you know?" Many critics
of the militant anti-smoking campaign believe that it defies credibility
to believe that Truth and ALF would not legally prohibit tobacco,
if they could. They point to the make-up of ALF's eleven-member
Board of Directors as proof of its political intentions: six of
the members are hold high political office and constitute a voting
majority on the Board.

Nevertheless, Question 12 of Truth's FAQ asks "Do we want to
ban smoking?" The answer: "That's not our goal."
I believe Truth. I do not think they would ban smoking even if they
could. I think the tobacco FAQ
offered by The Jester's Court
offers a sophisticated analysis,
despite its sarcasm. "What if consumers stop buying tobacco
products? That would be very bad. That would mess up the economics
of the whole thing. The government would probably have to set up
an emergency task force to figure out ways to get people smoking
again in order to finance the historic tobacco settlement."
On a more serious note, Wooster opens his article expose with a
summary statement that includes the question of whether the ALF
funds have benefited the public or just a few "ad agencies
and anti-tobacco activists?" After all, when Florida –
a leader in the ALF crusade – cut its anti-tobacco budget by
over half, eleven of thirty-one anti-smoking zealots were reassigned
from their plush and "morally righteous" jobs.

Wooster suggests that ALF's "ultimate legacy" may be little
more than "a massive transfer of wealth from tobacco consumers
and the retail market to well-to-do foundation officials and advertising
executives". As Peter Grier states in the Christian Science
Monitor, "Not even the toughest anti-smoking group wants 43
million smokers to have to quit, cold turkey." Instead, they
want a fully regulated tobacco industry that continues to pay fat
profits that can be raked in by those who use the political means.
Their goal? In the words of that eminent American philosopher Mel
Brooks, "We've got to protect our phony baloney jobs, gentlemen!"

25, 2000

McElroy is author of The
Reasonable Woman
. See more of her work at
and at her personal website.

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