10 Lessons from 3 days at N-Ten
Nonprofit Advocacy Blogging and the "Future of Big Media"

Tobacco's "Sand in the Gears" Strategy

Journal of Preventive Medicine does some great digging in the tobacco document library to unearth the "sand in the gears" strategy. Not so surprisingly, this is the same strategy being used by many of the industrial polluters today. Unfortunately, Capital Hill and the agencies seem to be playing along with the pro-cancer lobbyist then they did in the early 90's.

The whole case study is outrageous when you consider that each day of delay increased cancer deaths by nonsmokers and those that were working to throw "sand in the gears" knew they were not merely protecting the "right to smoke" but intentionally doing harm to nonsmokers (second hand smoke) by blocking rules on indoor air quality. (Feeling any rage?)

The researchers obtained the information on the tobacco industry's political strategies based on tobacco company internal documents made public through litigation in the United States. The documents are available at the Minnesota Tobacco Document Depository in Minneapolis and the British American Tobacco (BAT) Document Depository in London. Strategies that are outlined in the journal's report include:

- Lobbying the first Bush Administration to approve an executive order that would impose new risk assessment standards for federal agencies, thus delaying the release of the EPA report.

- Urging the first Bush Administration transfer jurisdiction over environmental tobacco smoke from the EPA to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which would have squelched the EPA report.

- Applying enormous political pressure directly by alleging improper procedure and policy at EPA.

Most of the strategies eventually failed, but the authors say the political pressure from U.S. Rep. Thomas Bliley, Jr., R-Va., was a success.

"This is the first report showing how a single member of Congress in conjunction with his staff, tobacco industry attorneys and executives worked very aggressively to advance the tobacco industry's interests," Dr. Hurt says.

The process is revolting. Unfortunately, there seems to be no shortage of staff and politicians willing to sacrifice public health for corporate (personal) gain (think GE (king of the superfund sand throwers), plastics, pharmaceutical, mining, waste management, timber, real estate development, energy development ...) I am not sure where the network-centric story is in the anti-tobacco history but I sense that the fight was very decentralized for a long-time. Family members, doctors, researchers, health advocates, etc. victims slowly building and connecting the dots until states and big law guns joined the network and tobacco retreated. Was there a tobacco "media trigger" (was it the photo with all the executives swearing under oath) that toppled attention? or was tobacco industry strategy "bled" to death with to many families connecting dead relatives to tobacco.

(don't get me wrong..I used to enjoy the occasional cigar, smoke, chew while I am out on the trail (kids make you wiser.) Tobacco should not be illegal. The focus of the report is on "sand in the gears" strategy. It disgusts me to no extent the industry played games with the health of nonsmokers and kept the dangers of tobacco hidden from the older generation for so long.)