Sep. 15 2016
WASHINGTON, D.C. – It is truly absurd that tobacco giant Reynolds American and former House Speaker John Boehner, who was elected to Reynolds’ board of directors today, would express a commitment to "speeding the decline in tobacco use among young people." Their records show the exact opposite. Reynolds’ announcement pairs the tobacco company with the most egregious record of marketing to kids and a politician with a long record of fighting policies to reduce youth tobacco use.
Just yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Reynolds has stepped up its marketing of Newport cigarettes to young people with coupons for cigarettes at just $1 per pack and "Newport Pleasure Lounges" at music festivals. Reynolds knows that reducing cigarette prices attracts price-sensitive youth, and the tobacco industry has a long history of using concerts to market to young people. Reynolds’ latest marketing schemes are blatant efforts to circumvent federal law, which bans free samples of tobacco products and direct sponsorships of concerts because these strategies have been found to appeal to kids.
At the same time Reynolds is offering coupons for ultra-cheap Newport cigarettes, the company is pouring millions into fighting ballot initiatives to significantly increase cigarette taxes in California, Colorado and North Dakota. Reynolds, Altria/Philip Morris and other tobacco companies have already spent about $60 million to run deceptive ads against these initiatives. Reynolds is opposing these initiatives for the very same reason it is offering cheap Newports: It knows that increasing the price of cigarettes is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, especially among kids.
As a member of Congress, Boehner was a top recipient of tobacco industry campaign contributions and consistently opposed legislation to reduce youth tobacco use, including the 2009 law granting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products. He once handed out campaign checks from tobacco interests on the House floor. Toward the end of his tenure, Boehner worked to weaken FDA oversight of electronic cigarettes and cigars, an effort that other members of Congress are continuing today and should be rejected.
So it’s not surprising Boehner would go to work for Reynolds American, a tobacco company with a long and continuing history of marketing to kids and fighting proven strategies to reduce youth tobacco use. Reynolds brought us the cartoon character Joe Camel, the most notorious example of cigarette marketing to kids, and the company’s Camel and Newport brands remain two of the three most popular cigarette brands among kids today.
It is also not surprising that Boehner is joining Reynolds at the same time there is growing pressure for the FDA to ban menthol cigarettes. Newport is the leading menthol brand. On Tuesday, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council called on the FDA to ban menthol, with support from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other public health organizations. Newport and other menthol cigarettes have been heavily marketed to African Americans with devastating health consequences. A 2013 FDA report concluded that menthol cigarettes lead to 1) increased smoking initiation among youth and young adults; 2) greater addiction; and 3) decreased success in quitting smoking. It is time for the FDA to act on these findings and ban menthol cigarettes.
Reynolds American likes to claim it is "transforming tobacco." But in reality, the company is doing everything it can to preserve its cigarette market for as long as possible. Elected officials have an obligation to reject the company’s efforts to wield political influence and act to protect kids and public health instead.