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Tobacco Industry Makes Strides in Trump’s Washington

Posted on Jul 13, 2017

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President Trump may have promised to “drain the swamp” of lobbyists in Washington, but six months into his administration it seems the swamp is winning.

A new report published in The Guardian exposes how tobacco companies are gaining significant political victories under Trump, due to lobbying efforts and the fact that tobacco business insiders have been appointed to top positions in the president’s administration. Jessica Glenza explains:

America’s largest cigarette manufacturers, Reynolds American and Altria Group, donated $1.5m to help the new president celebrate his inauguration. The donations allowed executives to dine and mingle with top administration officials and their families.

Not long after Trump promised to transfer power from Washington to the American people, a wave of spending in pursuit of influence was unleashed. In the first quarter of 2017, tobacco companies and trade associations spent $4.7m lobbying federal officials. Altria, the company behind Marlboro, hired 17 lobbying firms. Reynolds, makers of the Camel brand, hired 13, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

Since then, tobacco companies have been putting points on the scoreboard. Politicians and officials with deep ties to the tobacco industry now head the US health department, the top attorney’s office and the Senate, even as tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death.

Agencies in charge of reviewing large mergers let a window slip by in which they might have requested information about a $49bn merger between Reynolds and British American Tobacco (BAT). That merger, expected to be voted through by shareholders next week, will make BAT the biggest listed tobacco company in the world, and puts proceeds from eight out of 10 cigarettes sold in the US into the pockets of two companies: Altria and BAT. ...

The Food and Drug Administration has twice delayed legal briefs to defend regulations of e-cigarettes, products cigarette makers say are the future. Summer deadlines for cigar and e-cigarette makers to file applications with the FDA, which regulates the products, have all been delayed by the Trump administration.

And the high-profile attorney Noel Francisco, who once argued for Reynolds that including a quit-line phone number on cigarette packs amounted to government advocacy against smoking, has been nominated for the post of solicitor general, the government’s top attorney.

The companies now securing regulatory wins are also partly responsible for Trump’s victory in the 2016 election. “For Trump’s inaugural celebration, Reynolds American gave $1m. Altria Group gave $500,000,” Glenza reports. “The US Chamber of Commerce, which has been fiercely pro-tobacco in recent years, gave $25,000.”

Prior to becoming president, Trump profited from tobacco companies, Glenza says. His past financial disclosures “show he earned up to $2.1m from tobacco holdings in diversified portfolios,” although he has since claimed (without offering any proof) to have sold his stocks.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and members of Trump’s administration including Vice President Mike Pence have deep ties to the tobacco industry. Glenza shows the links between tobacco company donations and pro-tobacco policymaking.

“Tobacco industry influence in Washington is pervasive, in many different ways,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a longtime opponent of smoking, tells The Guardian. “As in so many areas, the promise to drain the swamp has been an extraordinary hypocrisy.”

Read the full report here.

—Posted by Emma Niles


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