U.S. Gov't 'Cancer' Research: Tobacco Industry's ‘Astroturfing’ Helped Create Tea Party

February 21, 2013 - 5:02 PM
Tea Party

A Tea Party movement rally at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 12, 2009. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - In a study published online on Feb. 8 by the journal Tobacco Control, researchers from the University of California at San Francisco--working under National Cancer Institute grants that have disbursed more than $12 million over the past 12 years--argued that the tobacco industry helped create the Tea Party Movement through a process the researchers called “astroturfing.”

“Rather than being purely a grassroots movement, the Tea Party has been influenced by decades of astroturfing by tobacco and other corporate interests to develop a grassroots network to support their corporate agendas, even though their members may not support those agendas,” said the researchers.

(Astroturfing refers to groups that appear to be grassroots movements but actually are created and/or funded by corporations, industry trade associations, political interests or public relations firms.)

The study was co-authored by Amanda Fallin Ph.D, Rachel Grana Ph.D, and Stanton A. Glantz Ph.D. A note at the end of the article states: “This research was funded by National Cancer Institute grants CA-113710 and CA-087472.” According to the National Institutes of Health, Glantz is the principal investigator for both of these grants.

The National Cancer Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health, has given Glantz $3,608,560 since 2006 for a project entitled "Postdoctoral Training in Tobacco Control" (CA-113710) and $8,608,214 since 2000 for a project entitled "Analysis of Tobacco Industry Documents" (CA-087472).

Tea Party St. Louis

A Tea Party rally in St. Louis, Mo., on Sept. 12, 2009. (AP Photo/Whitney Curtis)

Glantz, who is a professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, confirmed the grants to CNSNews.com in an e-mail, but did not provide further comment. Co-author Grana is a Postdoctoral Scholar at UCSF’s Cardiovascular Research Institute, and Fallin is a Postdoctoral Scholar at UCSF's School of Medicine.

“It is important for tobacco control advocates in the USA and internationally, to anticipate and counter Tea Party opposition to tobacco control policies and ensure that policymakers, the media and the public understand the longstanding connection between the tobacco industry, the Tea Party and its associated organizations,” these federally funded researchers conclude.

UCSF houses the 14-million-document “Legacy Tobacco Library,” which includes papers obtained as part of the 1998 legal settlement between the four major tobacco companies -- Philip Morris, R. J. Reynolds, United Sates Tobacco and Lorillard – and 46 states.

The NIH’s official description of Glantz’s grant to conduct “Analysis of Tobacco Industry Documents," lists as one of its aims: “Analyze evolving tobacco industry strategies to oppose tobacco control policies at the local, state, and international level, including efforts to undermine implementation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.”

The Feb.8 article in Tobacco Control suggests that as the Tea Party movement spreads internationally it could thwart tobacco-control efforts on a global scale.

“Moreover, starting in the 1980s, major US tobacco companies attempted to manufacture an astroturf citizen ‘smokers’ rights movement’ to oppose local tobacco control policies,” the authors write. “These smokers rights’ groups had grassroots membership in several localities, but were created, coordinated and funded by the cigarette companies.

“Although the Tea Party is widely considered to have started in 2009, this paper presents a historical study of some of the tobacco companies’ early activities and key players in the evolution of the Tea Party,” the researchers said. “Many people in the smokers’ rights effort or the tobacco companies went on to Tea Party organizations. Moreover, while the Tea Party started in the USA, it is beginning to spread internationally.”

“This international expansion makes it likely that Tea Party organizations will be mounting opposition to tobacco control (and other health) policies as they have done in the USA,” the researchers wrote.

According to the study, Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE)--a free-market organiztion founded in 1984 that later split into Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks--aligned with tobacco companies on several issues in the 1990s. These included opposition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s categorizing second-hand smoke as a carcinogen, and opposition to the health-care legislation that President Clinton proposed in 1993. Tobacco companies also opposed Clinton's health-care plan because it carried a 75-cent tax per pack of cigarettes.

According to the study, tobacco companies provided CSE with $5.3 million over a 12-year period.

The researchers also point out that, in the 1980s and 1990s, the tobacco industry and groups opposing increases in tobacco taxes sometimes used rhetoric that referred to the Boston Tea Party.

“For example, a 1989 issue of Philip Morris Magazine included a section on excise taxes that compared that kind of taxation with the taxes being opposed during the Boston Tea Party,” said these federally funded researchers.

Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, a national grassroots organization, rebutted the Tobacco Control study. She said the Tea Party movement started after CNBC host Rick Santelli delivered an on-air rant against the $833 billion stimulus package just after it was signed into law in 2009.

“We're thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July,” Santelli said on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on Feb. 19, 2009. “All you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I’m going to start organizing.”

“It started four years ago this week,” Martin told CNSNews.com. “For whatever reason his rant that day stuck with people across the country and we started tweeting about it and talking about it through social media.”

Inspired by Santelli’s rant, Martin said the following day she participated in a conference call with 22 other people, organized by the Don’t Go Movement, Smart Girl Politics and Top Conservatives on Twitter.

“We were just mostly techies who were frustrated with the lack of technology in the Republican Party during the general election in 2008 and looking for ways to improve,” Martin said.  “And then the rant happened and we started to organize a conference call and it went from there.”

“There was no one from the tobacco industry on that call,” she said.

Martin said she has never been reached out to by the tobacco industry, calling the UCSF study “outrageous.”

“I can’t believe that my taxes are going to a study like this,” she said.  “We’re nearly $17 trillion in debt and we have money to waste on programs like this?”

Levi Russell, director of public affairs for Americans for Prosperity, also dismissed the study.

“The whole thing reads more like a wild-eyed conspiracy theory than a legitimate study,” Russell told CNSNews.com. “But the bigger issue is tax dollars intended to fund cancer research being used to marginalize millions of people concerned about wasteful government spending.

“It’s more than a little ironic that this comes out at the same time President Obama is saying he absolutely cannot find any spending to cut and needs to raise taxes,” he added.