Fakin’ It

Inside “smoker’s rights” groups–Big Tobacco’s first effort to speak on behalf of the people.

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Not long ago, he represented R.J. Reynolds on the front lines of its war against proposed smoking restrictions and taxes on tobacco products. Today he insists his name not be used, given all the threats he has received for championing the cause of the tobacco giant. Besides, he says, he signed a confidentiality statement.

Secrecy aside, his mission, he says, was to help assemble the nation of smokers into something that would pass for a grassroots movement capable of fending off regulation, excise taxes, and any other threat to RJR’s bottom line. A “field coordinator,” he was one of some two dozen assigned to hold the line in their respective regions of the country.

Each region, in fact, had a genuine popular uprising made up of legislators, physicians, consumers, parents–all decrying the death and disease wrought by cigarettes. RJR’s response, far from merely providing information to a voluntary movement of smokers’ rights advocates, sounds more like conscription. Sometimes he had to contact hundreds of smokers to field a ragtag army of 20 or 30 people for a smokers’ rights meeting. He likens it to the old Marxist practice of party-building, one cell at a time.

“You try not to ever let your link be known,” he says. “If your name never pops up in the paper, you’re doing your job.” The more the smokers’ rights movement could be presented as a spontaneous grassroots movement independent of the tobacco industry and its obvious vested economic interests, the greater the movement’s credibility and chances for success. For this, RJR paid him handsomely–more than $60,000 a year plus hefty bonuses. Not bad for part-time work.

But when he fought anti-tobacco measures directly, outright legislative victories were few and far between. Often he had to settle for delaying the opposition, putting up roadblocks in what seemed the inexorable advance of the forces arrayed against those who manufacture, sell, and use cigarettes.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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