Astroturf case study

In 1995, several think tanks mounted vitrolic attacks on the title="Food and Drug Administration"> href="http://www.fda.gov/">FDA using expensive radio,
television and print ads. In an article in the Los Angeles
Times
Myron Levin href="http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/yqd47d00">wrote:

Although the attacks do not mention tobacco, the industry is a major
beneficiary. By arguing that the FDA has neglected its basic mission,
the critics have made a case against the agency embarking on new
initiatives, such as tobacco control…

Some of the FDA attackers — including the Washington Legal
Foundation
, Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Competitive
Enterprise Institute
— have received financial support from tobacco
interests. And that has prompted industry foes to question if the
companies are just lucky bystanders or have played a behind-the-scenes
role…

Officials of Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, the two biggest tobacco
companies, declined to discuss corporate donations to such groups…

Tobacco companies “have increased their support of CEI but not to
fund any specific campaign, said spokesman Jason Taylor. “We make it
quite clear that support of CEI is support of the whole organization and
… our principles.”

However, now that the tobacco companies’ documents are href="http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/">publicly available we can
find out what was really going on.

Levin’s inquiries while he was working on his story generated quite a
few concerned emails within Philip Morris. Executives were worried
about what Levin might find out and wanted to make sure that no-one
told him anything. href="http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/xfi83c00">For example:

Of course Marsha should not respond to Levin. We never had any leaks
with Decision Quest. … This is disturbing and may mean that we are
using too many outside consultants.

What was Philip Morris trying to hide?

Well, in December 1994, a Philip Morris executive came up with a href="http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/cnc37c00">plan
to deal with the FDA:

Over the past few weeks I have been thinking about how the tobacco
industry should deal with the threat of FDA regulation of
nicotine. Even with the favorable outcome of the November elections, I
doubt if it will be politically feasible to get Congress to direct the
FDA not to regulate tobacco.

A better strategy is to launch a broad-based attack on the FDA. …

A public relations and advertising campaign should be mounted to
publicize FDA’s failings, and to generate public and congressional
sentiment for reform. …

From the moment the plan is launched, FDA will have its hands full
defending its record and its existing turf. FDA’s efforts to claim new
jurisdiction, including jurisdiction over tobacco would be
curtailed. The tobacco industry could take a low — even
invisible — profile if it so desires…

Citizens for a Sound
Economy

was Philip Morris’ major partner in the campaign. They presented a href="http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/yok53a00">proposal to
Philip Morris that included TV and radio ads, production of an
“academic” study on the FDA’s regulatory burden, and even astroturf
letters:

CSE would encourage our 250,000 grassroots members to … sign and
mail a pre-printed letter to the editor that has been personalized
with their local newspapers’ names and addresses.

The proposed budget was over a million dollars for phases I and II and
an additional href="http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/ihi35c00">$2,827,925 for
phase III. Philip Morris paid CSE a mere one million dollars, so
it looks like only phases I and II were implemented.

More details on the behind-the-scenes efforts of the tobacco companies
are in this
Mother Jones article
.

Comments

  1. #1 trrll
    May 30, 2007

    I’ve never quite seen the point of asking the FDA to regulate tobacco, and from what I’ve heard the FDA doesn’t want the job. Based on conventional therapeutic drug or food safety standards, the FDA could not possibly approve tobacco (it causes cancer, you know, which would be a good enough reason not to approve it even if it were not addictive). Perhaps some people see this as a “back door” way of banning tobacco, but that is absurd. Look at the difficulty that the FDA has had trying to regulate dangerous “nutritional supplements” such as ephedrine, which do not have nearly the political constituency of tobacco. Based upon its risks and addictive properties, tobacco probably should be classed as a Schedule I controlled substance, but that isn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future. An outright ban on tobacco would be politically impossible, economically problematic, and would probably be a greater social disaster than liquor prohibition.

    So putting tobacco under the FDA’s jurisdiction is effectively asking the FDA to institute a double standard, establishing a precedent that is likely to be a big problem for the FDA in the future. The only way to regulate tobacco is face up to it directly and do it by statute, and the FDA is probably the least qualified agency to implement any such regulations.

  2. #2 nanny_govt_sucks
    May 30, 2007

    Now you’re defending the FDA? What’s next? Will you defend the DMV as well?

    Regulation of drugs FDA-style has done far more harm than good. You just can’t get good results from a bloated, politicized, big-industry-lobbist-prone bureaucracy. For more, see:

    http://www.ruwart.com/FDA/protecting_ourselves.htm

    And by the way, why not let two of your enemies (the FDA and CEI/Tobacco) battle it out? I’m suprised you don’t view this as a win-win scenario.

  3. #3 Dano
    May 30, 2007

    Sure do wish Murrica would let the market operate like they do in China. Mmmmm…melamine. Capitalism works to protect your pooch!

    Best,

    D

  4. #4 jre
    May 30, 2007

    Now you’re defending the FDA? What’s next? Will you defend the DMV as well?

    Yeah. Once we’ve come to our senses and stopped registering cars and regulating drugs, our purified selves will finally enter into a libertarian paradise, where we will be looked over by a loving Adam Smith. And each of us will have a pony, nanny. Don’t forget the pony.

  5. #5 Hank Roberts
    May 30, 2007

    J Chromatogr A. 2006 May 26;1116(1-2):10-9.
    Epub 2006 Mar 31
    ….analysis of tobacco additives in cigarettes.
    Institute of Legal Medicine, Humboldt-University… Germany.

    Abstract begins:

    “Cigarettes may contain up to 10% by weight additives which are intended to make them more attractive….”

    Hey, cool. Who could complain about that?
    Do you suppose they’re used in the New Car Smell too?

  6. #6 nanny_govt_sucks
    May 30, 2007

    … stopped registering cars and regulating drugs …

    As usual the inane argument that because libertarians are opposed to regulation by politicized big-industry-lobbyist-influenced force-weilding government bureaucracies they are therefore opposed to regulation of any kind.

    Read a book, jre.

  7. #7 Marion Delgado
    May 30, 2007

    These wretched s__ts are just pissed off they’re distributing, for free, the same lies Tobacco and Oil pay others fantastic sums to spread.

    Don’t take it out on us, you fascist imbeciles.

  8. #8 Robert S.
    May 30, 2007

    If you want to remove the influence of corporations, government and advertizing upon your life, give up your cars, quit smoking, quit drinking, kill and/or grow your own food, read by candlelight (in the house you built, from the bees you keep, on the paper you made, from the trees you grew or cut down) and live in the forest, without a car. Get a bike or a horse or a wagon.

    (Hint1 if you sell everything you own, you could probably get enough money to move to the forest, maybe even to get some solar cells so you wouldn’t have to boil water (from your steam with the wood you gathered) to take a warm bath.)

    (Hint2 if you grew enough food or raised enough stock, you could trade for books and not have to write them yourself.)

    (Hint3 make sure you get a few guns and knives in case somebody wants to mess with you out in the forest, since there won’t be any police. (Of course, if you’re going to eat meat and make food, you’ll need some anyway.) Make sure you keep water around in case your place catches fire. Oh, and you might want to know how to splint your own fractures and the like.)

    Now if everyone did this and nobody drove or smoked, they’d go out of business.

    Yay!!! Despoilers of all that is kind and peaceful will go!!!!!

  9. #9 Ian Gould
    May 30, 2007

    “Regulation of drugs FDA-style has done far more harm than good.”

    Yeah just look at how those damn FDA bureaucrats denied pregnant women access to thalidomide.

    Sure life expectancy keeps goign up under the current system but put NAGS in charge and it’d reach several thousand.

  10. #10 nanny_govt_sucks
    May 30, 2007

    Ah yes, of course the anecdotal argument from Ian.

    Ian, is there NO OTHER way to regulate drugs than with a bloated, ineffecient, politicized government bureaucracy? Should we NEVER CONSIDER improving the system because one metric is on the rise?

  11. #11 trrll
    May 30, 2007

    I’d be more convinced of the notion that the free market is capable of regulating drugs if the effectively unregulated nutritional supplements industry had been more successful in establishing safety and quality standards that consumers could rely upon. A chemist I know purchased some steroids sold as nutritional supplements and found that not only the dose, but also the identity of drug varied widely from what was listed on the label.

  12. #12 Hank Roberts
    May 30, 2007

    > I’d be more convinced of the notion that the free market is capable of regulating drugs
    > if the effectively unregulated nutritional supplements industry ….

    There ya go! That is the free market approach at work. I recommend it to all the people who believe in it. Anything they can do to improve the outcomes will be very welcome. What have they suggested so far?

  13. #13 Ian Gould
    May 31, 2007

    “Ah yes, of course the anecdotal argument from Ian.”

    Says NAGS who prefers his ideology untainted by anything as impure as mere fact.

  14. #14 nanny_govt_sucks
    May 31, 2007

    A chemist I know purchased some steroids sold as nutritional supplements and found that not only the dose, but also the identity of drug varied widely from what was listed on the label.

    Did the supplements carry an NSF seal of approval?

    More info:

    http://www.supplementquality.com/testing/NSF_testing_GNC.html
    http://www.nsf.org/

  15. #15 nanny_govt_sucks
    May 31, 2007

    Ian, you didn’t answer my questions.

  16. #16 Ian Gould
    May 31, 2007

    Nags, you mean you actually thoguht the deserved an answer?

    I’m surprised you didn’t add “Satan-worshipping” and “baby-raping” to your list of emotive, biased adjectives.

    The US has one of the least regulated drug industries in the developed world – which is why it’s extraordinarily expensive and particularly prone to overprescribing and recalls.

    But I’m sure removing the few remnants of regulation which have survived the Bush regime will clear those problems right up.

  17. #17 Ian Gould
    May 31, 2007

    I know that, by definition, all government argencies are “bloated, ineffecient, politicized government bureaucracy” according to NAGS and other imbibers of the corporate propaganda spewed out by the likes of the CEI and the Cato Institute but just for novelty’s sakes let’s look at the facts.

    The FDA’s budget is less than $2 billion per year:

    http://www.fda.gov/oc/oms/ofm/budget/2007/HTML/1PerformanceBudgetOverview.htm

    That includes not only food and drug regulation but other functions such as funding sufficient vaccine manufacturing capacity to deal with a possible flu pandemic.

    Hands up anyone who thinks less than $7 per American per year is wildly excessive to regulate industries with a turnover in the trillions.

  18. #18 liberal
    May 31, 2007

    You just can’t get good results from a bloated, politicized, big-industry-lobbist-prone bureaucracy.

    Those big industry dollars come from rents obtained by patent protection.

    I’ll wager that granting patents—government licenses to form a monopoly, and enforced by government courts—are a government action that nanny_govt_sucks approves of.

  19. #19 nanny_govt_sucks
    May 31, 2007

    Ian, is there no other way to regulate drugs? Should we never consider improvements to the system?

    liberal: The problem is not that big industry makes big dollars, it is the open-door policy that politicians and bureaucrats take when lobbyists with those dollars come around and the growing power that those politicians and bureaucrats have over our lives.

  20. #20 Harald Korneliussen
    May 31, 2007

    nanny, didn’t the mises folks seriously suggest that drunk driving be decriminalized? You do a great job of living up to the predjudices, if that’s what they are…

  21. #21 Harald Korneliussen
    May 31, 2007

    Sorry, the link was supposed to be http://www.mises.org/story/2343

  22. #22 dhogaza
    May 31, 2007

    Will you defend the DMV as well?

    No. I’m of the opinion that blind people should be able to drive, too. Who is government to deny them this basic liberty?

  23. #23 Ian Gould
    May 31, 2007

    NAGS “…a bloated, politicized, big-industry-lobbist-prone bureaucracy….”

    You know it’s a little late in the day to start claiming you want a reasoned balanced discussion.

    But let me start: do you think less than $7 per person per year is excessive?

    Can you point to other countries with similar or better levels of health care and food safety which spend less?

  24. #24 Davis
    May 31, 2007

    Ah yes, of course the anecdotal argument from Ian.

    It’s pretty hilarious reading this from someone who has made nothing but bald assertions.

  25. #25 jre
    May 31, 2007

    How to respond to nanny? Hmmm …

    Point out, as others have, that the FDA is one of the most efficient agencies (in either sense) for the protection of public health?

    Mention that the Pure Food and Drug Act has achieved its goals as effectively as any law in history?

    Suggest that he read a book?

    Nah — I think I’ll just stick to mockery. It does just as much good (in this case anyway), and is more satisfying to the spirit.

  26. #26 Kevin
    June 1, 2007

    “How to respond to nanny? Hmmm …

    Point out, as others have, that the FDA is one of the most efficient agencies (in either sense) for the protection of public health?”

    Absolutely. In the status quo, with the FDA on the job we have had nary a health crisis in the food or drug industries. Nothing like a bunch of government union workers to bring a sense of pride and dedication to a job.

    http://www.nteu282.org/

    Nothing spells dedication like having a core workday of 10am to 2pm M-F and then being able to work whenever from midnight Sunday to midnight Saturday and better yet having mandatory flexi-workplaces. Right on! It’s a veritable model of efficiency and oversight. I am sure their workplace oversight functions amazingly well on the employee working from home at 3 AM.

    You know, if it’s true that the FDA is comparatively efficient to other agencies, you aren’t saying much good about it.

    Out of curiousity, have you ever been present at a government safety inspection of any sort from any level of government? If so, what was your experience?

  27. #27 KGrandia
    June 1, 2007

    I have seen all sorts of ways that groups like the CEI make the claim that although they receive corporate donations, they are independent and not controlled in any way by their donors.

    In an interview with Myron Ebell from the CEI a while ago, the BBC host asked something along the line of: “If you were to reverse your position on climate change, would Exxon still fund you?” Ebell’s response is very telling. Here’s the youtube clip of the interview, it is by far my favorite:

    http://www.desmogblog.com/the-competitive-enterprise-institute-and-all-thats-fit-to-spin

  28. #28 Dano
    June 1, 2007

    Would that the American reporters did some actual reporting. Good clip, Kevin and thank you.

    Best,

    D

  29. #29 Eli Rabett
    June 1, 2007

    Eli’s favorite story of gumment regulation

    So the process continues… Eventually, the Army has a spec that indicates even situations that a rational person would say – “This makes no sense. Everyone knows that.” But the rational person wouldn’t realize that when the Army specifies that no sawdust is to be used in making flour, or that no more than X parts of per million of rat droppings will be in the cookie, that the Army has a damn good reason for having that in there, namely that some upstanding leader of the community who waves a flag and is a member of the local Kiwanis actually tried to pass such things off on American military personnel. And of course, that upstanding leader of the community who waves a flag and is a member of the local Kiwanis is happy to lecture one and all about how much more efficient the private sector is than the public sector – exhibit A being the Army’s specs on making a chocolate chip cookie.

  30. #30 dhogaza
    June 2, 2007

    Nothing spells dedication like having a core workday of 10am to 2pm M-F and then being able to work whenever from midnight Sunday to midnight Saturday and better yet having mandatory flexi-workplaces. Right on! It’s a veritable model of efficiency and oversight.

    Yes, you’re right, it is. I ran a small (50 employee) compiler development company for a large part of my life and our folk came and went as they pleased. I’ve done lengthy consultant gigs with Digital (now defunct), Rational, and other high-tech firms and the same was true there. I began telecommuting a day a week back when state-of-the-art was a 300 baud modem, and now work independently on my laptop in coffee shops with free wifi exclusively. I rarely visit my home office except to vacuum or dust.

    So, the point is, if flexible hours work well in private industry, why not in government?

    It’s different, of course, on an assembly line where a team of people are working in a factory all at once. You’ll never see those poor souls telecommute.

    But for many jobs, the traditional 9-5 workday is less efficient than flextime. A worker on flextime doesn’t have to fight (nor contribute to) rush-hour traffic. The worker will arrive more relaxed and less stressed. If the worker can telecommute, even better.

    The scheme you’re complaining about seems very rational to me. A core workday of 10-2 means you can schedule meetings easily and be certain that people will be there. Yet workers have the flexibility to match their work schedule to their personal schedule. A morning person like me can work from 6 to 2, for instance. 9 to 5 is nuts for someone like me…

  31. #31 Eli Rabett
    June 2, 2007

    The US government went to flexible work hours more than a decade ago. http://www.opm.gov/oca/aws/html/define.asp

    Just another livertarian flim flam show guys, move on.

  32. #32 z
    June 3, 2007

    “A chemist I know purchased some steroids sold as nutritional supplements and found that not only the dose, but also the identity of drug varied widely from what was listed on the label.
    Did the supplements carry an NSF seal of approval?”

    I don’t suppose it’s possible to explain to you that

    1) the US government/FDA does not regulate in any way over the counter “supplements”, a fact widely mentioned in the media in discussions of the FDA vs over the counter;

    2) the NSF in question here is a private, for profit, organization selling its services, not “a bloated, politicized, big-industry-lobbist-prone bureaucracy”; as they make quite clear on their website, to which you provide links

    3) this unnecessary logical misfire here pulls the credibility rug out from under your opinions regarding governments, regulation, libertarianism, etc.

    However, I do hope that at least we can save the young folks before their mental faculties are similarly rotted out.

  33. #33 z
    June 3, 2007

    “the NSF in question here is a private, for profit, organization selling”

    I meant private NOT for profit. Way to make a dramatic exit.

  34. #34 z
    June 3, 2007

    “You know, if it’s true that the FDA is comparatively efficient to other agencies, you aren’t saying much good about it.
    Out of curiousity, have you ever been present at a government safety inspection of any sort from any level of government? If so, what was your experience?”

    Au contraire; compare the FDA, regarded by industry as the enemy, to the USDA, regarded by industry as an ally:

    “As an example, a packaged ham-and-cheese sandwich could either be regulated by the FDA or the USDA depending on whether it consists of one slice of bread or two. The USDA inspects manufacturers of packaged open-face meat or poultry sandwiches while the FDA inspects manufacturers of packaged closed-face meat or poultry sandwiches.”

    “Although there are no differences in the risks posed by these products, USDA inspects wholesale manufacturers of open-face sandwiches sold in interstate commerce daily, while FDA inspects closed-face sandwiches an average of once every five years,” the GAO said.”

    http://www.foodproductiondaily-usa.com/news/ng.asp?n=74102-usda-fda-food-safety

  35. #35 Eli Rabett
    June 3, 2007

    NSF is a government agency in the US.

  36. #36 dhogaza
    June 4, 2007

    NSF is a government agency in the US.

    Different NSF I think. AFAIK the NSF isn’t in the certification and labelling business regarding over-the-counter dietary supplements. The NSF is a research-grant funding arm of governmentl.

    There’s certainly no “NSF seal of approval” for such supplements.

  37. #37 James
    February 19, 2008

    My impression is that there are often problems with regulating organisations like the FDA (I’m speaking in generalities here) but in the opposite direction; they tend to get captured by the industries they are supposed to regulate, because the industries do tightly focussed lobbying against the vague ideal of protecting the consumer, who never writes.

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