I was not surprised when the American Civil Liberties Union came out against the FDA’s plan to end menthol cigarettes, repeating baseless industry arguments that getting rid of menthol would lead to more police violence against African Americans.
Why? Because the ACLU has been carrying the tobacco industry’s water for decades. The ACLU has opposed clean indoor air laws since shortly after I first got involved in trying to pass them in 1978, arguing against he evidence that secondhand smoke was dangerous and that there was a right to smoke.
Why? Thanks to a series of reports in the early 1990s by legendary Washington Post investigative reporter Morton Mintz (Nieman Reports, Advocacy Institute) we now know that the ACLU secretly accepted millions of dollars from the tobacco industry.
In 1996 the NY Coalition for a Smoke-Free City summarized how the ACLU’s position changed after the tobacco money started flowing:
THEN (Before Tobacco Money)
* The ACLU did not oppose banning cigarette advertising on TV and radio.
* The ACLU did not oppose warning labels on cigarette packages or print ads.
* The ACLU did not oppose prohibiting cigarette sales to minors.
* The ACLU did not oppose smokefree workplace laws.
* The ACLU did not oppose nicotine being regulated as a drug.
* The ACLU did not oppose counter-advertising.
* The ACLU did not oppose tombstone advertising.
NOW (After Tobacco Money)
* The ACLU opposes FDA rules to regulate nicotine as a drug and place restrictions on cigarette ads aimed at minors.
* The ACLU opposes legislation to prohibit or restrict tobacco advertising and promotion.
* The ACLU opposes legislation for new, larger warning labels. The ACLU opposes legislation that would strip the tax deductibility of tobacco advertising. The ACLU opposes Congressman Waxman’s smokefree public places bill. The ACLU ignored employee pleas and a petition for a smokefree workplace.
* The ACLU does not believe that tobacco advertising entices young people to smoke.
* The ACLU does not oppose life insurance companies discriminating against smokers by charging them more for life insurance (three tobacco companies own life insurance subsidiaries that charge smokers more for life insurance).
* The ACLU opposes campaign finance reform that would limit soft money donations (tobacco companies rank among the largest soft money donators).
* The ACLU turned a blind eye to attempts by cigarette makers to silence whistle blowers, such as Jeffrey Wigand. (Nadine Strossen claims the ACLU doesn’t have the resources).
* The ACLU- NY Affiliate opposed New York City legislation to require counter-advertising on all City property where tobacco is advertised, even though the ACLU previously called for such legislation.
Soucewatch also describes some the the ACLU/tobacco connections and in 1993 consumer advocate Ralph Nader criticized ACLU for tobacco industry ties.
There are also thousands of mentions of the ACLU in previously secrete industry documents that you can explore.
The ACLU does many important things and often takes controversial positions. The undisclosed money the ACLU took from the tobacco companies certainly creates the impression that more than principled positions is driving ACLU positions.
The ACLU needs to stop sullying their reputation by continuing to protect the cigarette companies, in this case their ability to target African Americans and other vulnerable groups with menthol cigarettes.