In the month since they announced they are walking away from the negotiations over tobacco legislation, the tobacco companies have taken an unprecedented pounding. The Clinton administration, members of Congress from both parties, and the media have lined up to take potshots at the tobacco industry’s shocking display of arrogance—after all, under the constitution, corporate CEOs do not have a vote in Congress, nor do they share the president’s veto power.
It has been the best month Big Tobacco has enjoyed in a long time.
By denouncing the legislation introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as an extremist, “big government” approach that is likely to bankrupt the industry, the tobacco merchants have succeeded in luring many into a defense of the McCain bill.
That is exactly what the industry hoped to accomplish. Big Tobacco cannot help but be happy with the McCain bill, which grants the industry a wide array of concessions and protections. But it knows the best way to generate support for the bill is to pretend to oppose it—a tobacco industry endorsement would be the kiss of death for any legislation on Capitol Hill.
Here are some of the reasons why the industry loves the McCain bill:
In a September 1997 report, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) concluded that similar antitrust immunity provisions in the June 20, 1997 state attorneys’ general deal with the tobacco industry “may permit the industry members to discuss pricing arrangements that reach beyond the amount of a 100 percent ‘pass-through’ to consumers of the cost of the annual payments,” and that “the industry may be able to increase prices and generate substantial profits.”
Congress, the media, and the public shouldn’t be fooled by Big Tobacco’s ruse. It is time to pass tough tobacco legislation—without worrying about industry’s support, and without providing sweetheart deals to the Tobacco Lords. If Congress cannot pass broad legislation to control the industry, then it should pass more focused legislation—including, for example, a tax increase, affirmation of Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco, and international measures—that doesn’t confer any special protections and benefits on the Merchants of Death.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. This article first appeared in their weekly column, Focus on the Corporation, which is available on the Web or via e-mail.
(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman