• Paying for the Rope That Hangs Them

    Email Print

    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 ifeminists.com
    and at her personal website.

    McElroy Archives

    Email Print