We are all familiar with some of the shenanigans and outright fraud committed by tobacco companies. In fact, the multibillion-dollar settlement they made with the U.S. government exposed many of their tactics, including buying off scientists and concealing the link between cigarette smoking and cancer.
Now, a study published in the journal Tobacco Control (abstract here) shows how the industry funded the Tea Party in an attempt to limit laws that restrict smoking.
The 2009 'Tea Party' Movement
In 2009, an emerging political movement swept the country, appearing, it seemed, out of a grassroots, fundamental desire to limit the scope of government. The name, “Tea Party,” reflected a desire to rebel against high taxes and burdensome regulation. The party is still very active, and several federal legislators identify themselves with the movement.
In now appears that the movement was at least partly the result of efforts from big tobacco to push back against new regulations about smoking at work or in public places.
The Link to Big Tobacco
The study examined the links between tobacco interests and groups which would eventually spawn the Tea Party itself. Although concealed by its nature, behind the scenes funding was revealed because many of the internal documents from tobacco companies were published as part of the settlement in 1998.
Taxes on cigarettes are a particular concern, since it is well known that higher prices decrease demand for tobacco. Along with this, however, prevention of federal and state limits on tobacco use have also been on the front burner. This combination, tax reform and limiting regulations, matches up well with the ideology of the Tea Party movement, and the tobacco industry had already pushed to organize smokers against what it saw as interference in their businesses.
What’s striking about this study is the level of detail. Links are shown, not just for funding, but for personnel. Following a lobbyist’s career or a tobacco advocate’s connections exposes relationships that might otherwise be concealed.
Because it is peer reviewed research and published in a respectable journal, the study is more than just a politically motivated charge. Rather, it amounts to historical research and a peek behind the curtain of how political change is influenced by powerful commercial interests.