Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Think tank for hire

"Thank You For Smoking" is terrific fiction, and even better non-fiction. The following might as well have been ripped from the pages of Christopher Buckley's novel:

When tobacco companies came under fire in the late 1980s, they searched desperately for new friends. They found one in Citizens Against Government Waste.

Both sides profited from the relationship. CAGW got at least $245,000 from the tobacco industry, while the companies got a fresh and supposedly independent voice to oppose government regulation of their product.

Though I'm against government's meddling into personal affairs (i.e. smoking), it's fascinating to see which groups the tobacco lobby approached for assistance:

An internal memo from an R.J. Reynolds executive in 1990 shows how the industry sought new allies from a wide range of groups - evangelical Christians, antilabor groups, conservative think tanks.

What would Jesus smoke? (sorry, I know that's getting old. Consider it retired).

In 1995, the industry grew alarmed when the Clinton administration floated the possibility of having the Food and Drug Administration regulate tobacco. In response, the Tobacco Institute, an industry lobbying group, sent a memo with marching orders for allies such as CAGW.

It said First Amendment groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Washington Legal Foundation were to complain that the government's proposal was a "challenge to freedom of speech." Conservative groups, including CAGW, the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute were to speak against "government over-regulation" and the possible harm to the FDA's core mission of regulating food and drugs. Other groups were supposed to decry the "slippery slope of over-regulation."

Even if you support their argument, as I do, it's hard not to be turned off by the back-room dealings and profit motives. As H.L. Mencken said: "Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage."

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