The Shadow Acts of the Tobacco Industry

Anne Mitchell Health Guide
  • The tobacco industry still works in the shadows when it comes to funding opposition to anti-smoking legislation. Today I want to share a bit of interesting information I uncovered while I was reading up on Wisconsin’s current efforts to become a smoke-free state.

    Wisconsin is trying to join the growing number of states that prohibit smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants. We have the hospitality industry on board and many of our legislators are working hard to see Wisconsin’s Senate Bill 150 pass.

    Interestingly, one very active opposition group keeps appearing that has somewhat opaque funding sources. The Tavern League of Wisconsin has a website that indicates that it receives no more than $5,000 from each of several tobacco firms plus other companies. This is not too surprising considering how tightly linked smoking and alcoholic consumption are. It even seems almost respectable considering it’s not a huge amount of money and other groups give even more.
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    But the biggest supporter is a group called the Wisconsin Wine and Spirit Institute. This group does not have a website, and searching for it under state records finally reveals that its executive director uses what appears to be a personal email address. Upon further investigation, this person seems to be a lawyer who is employed by a firm that (drum roll) lobbies for the tobacco industry.

    Why the Wisconsin Wine and Spirit Institute does not have a website is anyone’s guess. But this firm donates the most money of any group to the Tavern League of Wisconsin and that organization is the most vocal opponent to restricting tobacco smoking in restaurants and bars.

    In other words, the tobacco industry very much wants smokers to keep smoking in bars and restaurants and they will go to great lengths to protect that interest. This is also no surprise, but why do they feel the need to fight behind the veil of obscurity? Why not fight in the light of day? My guess is that they realize their self-serving methods would trigger a public backlash and they would prefer to stay out of that spotlight.

    Now, I can’t prove any of this - I am only making deductions based on search results and then connecting the obvious dots. But I do feel strongly that these underhanded tactics must stop. The Tavern League of Wisconsin should be ashamed to show their largest sponsor as some shadowy organization that won’t disclose any information about itself, including where it gets its funding.

    Smoking needs to be prohibited in restaurants and bars because the men and women who work there should not be forced to be subjected to the ill effects of second-hand smoke. The majority of us patrons who do not smoke have a choice about where we go to eat and drink, but these workers do not (unless it is to quit their jobs, which I do not consider to be much of a choice).

    I wonder how many other states that are fighting to become smoke-free are really fighting against the massive dollar power of the tobacco industry?
Published On: February 26, 2008