July 09, 2007

Tobacco Tactics

Yes, I've been a smoker in the past. A heavy smoker, even. And no, it wasn't because I was duped or mislead by Phillip Morris. That said, I totally agree that cigarette companies are nasty—as nasty as corporations get. Helen Epstein has the full indictment in the New York Review of Books this month, with all the familiar charges laid out, but this part was all news to me:
According to [former secretary of health and human services Joseph] Califano, cigarette taxes are among the most powerful weapons against the [tobacco[ industry. When New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg increased cigarette taxes in 2002, the smoking rate fell by 11 percent, and by 36 percent among teens.

Cigarette companies now spend billions fighting tax increases by providing discounts, free samples, and coupons, all meant to attract teenagers and the poor, the two groups of consumers who care most about prices. The companies also contribute to the political campaigns of candidates willing to vote down new cigarette taxes...

[A]ccording to Califano, they have even fostered cross-border smuggling rackets in Canada and Europe, in order to persuade governments to reduce cigarette taxes, which they claim provide opportunities for "organized crime."
Okay, that last part was really news to me. But apparently it's true: Check out this report by the Center for Public Integrity, or this fact sheet. Gangsters one and all. In other cigarette news, it seems like Hillary Clinton's main political advisor, Mark Penn, has spent a lot of time over the last two decades shilling for Big Tobacco. Now, I don't think it's entirely "indefensible" to oppose, say bans on smoking in bars, but it's more than a little creepy that Penn and Doug Schoen went about helping to create "smoker's rights" astroturf groups on behalf of RJ Reynolds.
-- Brad Plumer 9:55 PM || ||