After the smoking wars ended in 1998 with 46 states sharing a settlement worth more than $12.7 billion, Big Tobacco has largely stayed out of the public eye. No more Joe Camel T-shirts. No more ads aimed at young women. No more billboards with gleaming white smiles and slick slogans.
During the Obama Years, even though there was a President in the White House who was rumored to sneak a few puffs, the tobacco industry kept a low profile. But with the Republicans back in power in Washington, the tobacco industry could be reasserting its influence.
On May 1, the Justice Dept. moved to delay implementation of a rule that would grant the Federal Drug Administration strict regulatory power over electronic cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco and tobacco used in hookahs. The FDA’s new authority was scheduled to kick in as of May 10.
The Washington Post said the move comes “as the vaping and tobacco industries are launching a concerted effort to roll back the…regulation through both legislation and litigation.” Some of the biggest e-cigarette brands are now owned by tobacco companies such as Altria and Reynolds.
Last September, R.J. Reynolds added former House Speaker and inveterate Camel smoker John Boehner to its board. The Wall Street Journal said Reynolds directors with a year on the board collect about $400,000 in compensation.
In a report this week, Open.Secrets.org, an arm of the Center for Responsive Politics, noted that new FDA chief Scott Gotlieb served on the board of a vaping company and Chad Readler, acting attorney general for the civil division, represented R.J. Reynolds before joining the Justice Dept. His name was on the legal brief asking for a delay in implementing the FDA rule, The Post said.
Among the top 10 recipients of some $630,000 in tobacco contributions during the 2016 election cycle, OpenSecrets said, nine were Republicans, including – not surprisingly -- Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who collected more than $192,000. House Speaker Paul Ryan was in second place, and the lone Democrat was Hillary Clinton.
While Big Tobacco was not really a player in the Trump campaign, Reynolds and Altria donated big-time for Inauguration festivities, giving $1 million and $500,000 respectively, Open.Secrets said.
And tobacco lobbying efforts in Washington have ramped up in the first quarter of 2017, with Reynolds, Altria, and Philip Morris spending a total of about $8.5 million.
As Open.Secrets reported, however, that lobbying push didn’t stop the industry from suffering a setback in the omnibus budget bill. Not included was a proposed amendment that would have softened regulations on e-cigarettes.
Still, prospects for the industry holding the line against further regulation of e-cigarettes and tobacco products remain brighter than they have in years -- though keeping federal paws off cigars and vaping are not its only worries.
A new study by Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix found that patients have been arriving in its emergency room with severe burns on their thighs and other areas from electronic cigarettes whose lithium batteries may have malfunctioned in their pockets.
Dr. Gary Vercruysse, a burn surgeon who led the study, was quoted in a story on Futurity today as saying: “I think in general the public thinks that e-cigarettes are somehow better for you than tobacco cigarettes, but they still deliver nicotine, which isn’t good for you, and this particular product has a defect where the battery can malfunction.”