ALEC: Big Tobacco’s “Third-Party” Ally

Tina A. Walls, former Philip Morris VP of State Government Affairs

Tobacco industry documents reveal that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has abetted the failure of state legislatures to take meaningful steps to rein in the devastation caused by tobacco use. In a previously-secret, 1993 internal Philip Morris (PM) presentation called Grasstops Government Relations, Tina A. Walls, then Vice President of State Government affairs at PM, describes the company’s strategies to influence legislators, and demonstrates how ALEC works with corporations to bolster that influence. As she shows Philip Morris employees a chart she calls “The Influence Wheel,” Walls describes how PM’s Government Affairs department analyzes every part of a legislator’s world and misses no opportunity to exert influence. Walls tells the audience how PM provides legislators with trips to “promotional and cultural events” in nice places, and as an example cites a trip ALEC facilitated in which a group of American legislators traveled to Brussels, Belgium. Walls wrote,

“We make sure legislators are aware of, and invited to, promotional and cultural events funded by Philip Morris. {CITE ALEC 1992 TRIP TO BRUSSELS AS AN EXAMPLE}”

Walls also discusses PM’s strategy to keep itself out of the media by using third parties to “carry its baggage,” and describes how PM uses third parties allies like ALEC to dodge issues:

“…we try to keep Philip Morris out of the media on issues like taxation, smoking bans and marketing restrictions. Instead, we try to provide the media with statements in support of our positions from third party sources, which carry more credibility than our company and have no apparent vested interest…”

Many tobacco industry documents list ALEC a key third party ally. Quotes about ALEC in tobacco documents usually mention ALEC in the context of a third party promoter of tobacco industry positions. A typical example is a 1998 PM strategy plan to “generate more assertive and visible effects” for the cigarette maker’s positions on issues like youth smoking and secondhand smoke. The plan says, “Identify and educate those legislators and regulators that would be sensitive to our issues in order to secure buy-in and promote change … utilize …ALEC … to proactively promote the companies’ position of reasonable solutions on issues…” A chart called “Third Party References” indicates the industry could count on Samuel A. Brunelli, a former Executive director of ALEC’s “Civil Justice Task Force,” to take the tobacco industry’s side in public statements about state lawsuits filed in the 1990s to recoup the Medicaid costs of treating sick smokers.

To see these and a host of other documents describing ALEC’s long relationship with Big Tobacco, go to the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library and search on the terms “ALEC” and “third party.” The documents show ALEC has aided and abetted the long-term failure of American legislatures to enact meaningful tobacco control measures for decades, doubtless contributing to the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

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