By David Michaels

Chris Cillizza of WashingtonPost.com’s The Fix blog reports that former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) is “growing more and more serious about a run for president” – in fact, he’s chosen a “campaign manager in waiting.”

Tom Collamore, a former vice president of public affairs at Altria, has been leading the behind-the scenes organization efforts for a Thompson presidential candidacy and will be intimately involved when (not if) the former senator decides to announce a bid.

Altria is the parent company of Philip Morris (PM), which was behind many of the tobacco industry’s creative methods for staving off and weakening government regulation of tobacco products. How much did Collamore participate in these activities?

Collamore joined Philip Morris in 1992, Cillizza reports. At that time, the tobacco industry was concerned about moves to ban smoking in public places based on the health risks associated with secondhand smoke, or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). Tobacco’s number one enemy was the EPA, which had conducted a risk assessment that concluded that ETS was causing disease and death among non-smokers. Big Tobacco realized that as long as the harm from tobacco was limited to smokers, the cigarette makers could avoid regulation by claiming that smoking (and related illness) was just a personal choice issue. But once it became clear that smoking kills non-smokers too, all bets were off.

A 2004 article in Preventive Medicine by Monique Muggli, Richard Hurt, and Lee Becker uncovered Philip Morris’s work to “derail the [EPA’s] risk assessment on environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) by recruiting a network of journalists to generate news articles supporting the industry’s position and pushing its public relations message regarding the ETS issue.” Collamore was apparently involved in this effort:

In March 1993, Thomas Collamore, Philip Morris’ vice president of corporate affairs policy and administration, reported to Steve Parrish, vice president and general counsel of Philip Morris, that ‘‘Richard [Hines] is responsible for a number of articles that have appeared in . . . major news publications regarding EPA and ETS’’. Hines worked with Philip Morris to develop ‘‘a network of receptive journalists, television commentators, and editorialists’’ thereby getting Philip Morris’ messages out to a ‘‘selected network of journalists’’. Hines asserted that by using this approach, ‘‘[W]e have been able to get favorable articles/commentaries in major publications . . . and reach millions of the public through numerous syndicated columnists that are in our network’’. Another Philip Morris internal memo stated that Hines ‘‘works with Tom Borelli [director of science and environmental policy at Philip Morris] to generate articles critical of EPA science including ETS’’

A 1993 monthly budget supplement sent to Collamore lists $12,000 for Richard Hines Consulting – as well as $25,000 and $40,000, respectively, for groups headed by Thorne Auchter and Jim Tozzi to support “sound science” and “the debate on the need for scientific standards on meta-analysis and epidemiology.” In other words, the tobacco companies were paying other organizations to attack the science behind EPA’s risk assessment on secondhand smoke.

Collamore was also evidently involved (see here and here) with PM’s efforts – detailed in the ground-breaking Lancet article by Elisa Ong and Stanton Glantz – to undercut the credibility of a study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) on the effects of secondhand smoke.

The Philip Morris tobacco company feared that the study (and a possible IARC monograph on second-hand smoke) would lead to increased restrictions in Europe so they spearheaded an inter-industry, three-prong strategy to subvert IARC’s work. The scientific strategy attempted to undercut IARC’s research and to develop industry-directed research to counter the anticipated findings. The communications strategy planned to shape opinion by manipulating the media and the public. The government strategy sought to prevent increased smoking restrictions. The IARC study cost $2 million over ten years; Philip Morris planned to spend $2 million in one year alone and up to $4 million on research. The documents and interviews suggest that the tobacco industry continues to conduct a sophisticated campaign against conclusions that secondhand smoke causes lung cancer and other diseases, subverting normal scientific processes.

There is one important asset that Collamore brought to Philip Morris that he can also bring to the Thompson campaign – his relationship to the Bush family and the administration of President George W. Bush. According to SourceWatch:

Collamore’s relationship with powerful members of the Republican Party and the first Bush administration made him politically advantageous to PM, as it gave him easy access to the Bush family.

In 1994 PM sponsored a talk by former President Bush (father of the current President Bush) to the Texas Restaurant Association in Houston, shortly after Bush Sr. was voted out of office. In an email, Collamore describes how he accompanied Former President Bush to Houston on PM corporate aircraft, how Bush promoted PM’s “Accommodation Program” (a program the company developed to stave off legislated smoking restrictions) to the Restaurant Association, how Collamore served Bush Molson Ice (a Philip Morris-owned brand of beer) on the plane and arranged to have a case of the beer delivered to the President’s home in Kennebunkport, Maine, as a gift.[4] According to an article from the July 11, 1994 issue of the Nation’s Restaurant News about the meeting of the Texas Restaurant Association, Bush, when asked about legislated smoking restrictions, replied that he was skeptical about the government’s role in mandating smoking regulations and said, “I’m basically not for more mandates…I think it can be worked out by the industry itself.” [Link]

A June 1995 internal Philip Morris email from Collamore shows how PM gave and received favors from the Republican Party. Collamore wrote,

“RNC Chairman Haley Barbour called today to check in. We had a good talk about several topics: 1. He thanked us for supplying the beer for their staff picnic this past weekend. A good time was had by all. 2. He also thanked me for providing tickets for his use at the U .S .Senior Golf Open in Washington next week. 3. The primary purpose of Haley’s call was to invite me or another PM executive to join him on a trip to Asia the last two weeks of August. He is taking a small group (6-8 couples), representative of the RNC’s largest donors, to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipai and Seoul. There will be numerous meetings with senior government officials and conservative government leaders and activists. The trip ends in Seoul, for a meeting of the International Democratic Union (IDU)–a group that PM has supported in the past that supports younger up and coming conservative legislators and elected officials. Haley will be made vice-chairman of IDU at the meeting. He is sending me more information and I told him we appreciated the invitation and would give it close consideration.”

Philip Morris made a $30,000 donation to the Texas Republican Party (the letter accompanying the first check was written by Thomas Collamore). [Link]

Cigarettes have killed far more Americans than all the criminals ever portrayed on Law and Order. Does Fred Thompson really want someone who was involved with misleading the public about the risks of secondhand smoke to be running his campaign?

David Michaels heads the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) and is Professor and Associate Chairman in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

Comments

  1. #1 smintheus
    June 13, 2007

    This is a great post, thank you. Thompson himself has an ugly history of lobbying against asbestos-injury legislation, so it’s appropriate that he would find Thomas Collamore a suitable director of his presidential campaign.