Latest New York Times Report: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Ties to Big Tobacco Go Back Decades

October 15, 2015

This summer, an investigative series by The New York Times exposed how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has worked systematically in countries around the world to fight life-saving policies to reduce tobacco use. The Chamber’s strategies have included directly opposing countries’ tobacco control policies, pitting countries against each other in costly international trade disputes, and seeking to influence trade agreements to benefit tobacco companies.

Now a new story from the Times reveals the history and depth of the relationship between the U.S. Chamber and Big Tobacco, especially under Chamber CEO Thomas J. Donohue.  As the latest Times story put it:

Since taking over in 1997, Mr. Donohue has transformed the chamber into a powerful lobbying force, an evolution most starkly epitomized by its aggressive advocacy for tobacco. While the organization represents a variety of industries, its strategy has been a boon for cigarette makers, which have relied heavily on the chamber to push their agenda at home and abroad.

Few allies of Big Tobacco are as enduring as Mr. Donohue, who has personally lobbied the speaker of the House, the United States trade representative and the Irish prime minister on the industry’s behalf. A review of industry records, which came to light during government litigation, highlight the longevity of his ties.

In the 1980s, when he was a trucking lobbyist, he was bankrolled by cigarette makers as he led a campaign against excise tax increases, and was described in one corporate document as “a good friend to the Tobacco Industry.”

In the 1990s, after taking over the chamber, Mr. Donohue fought against the Justice Department’s tobacco litigation, personally lobbied against antismoking legislation in the Senate and promised “a unique role in determining the future direction of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to a big cigarette maker in a letter.

The article also raises questions about the Chamber’s relationship with the U.S. government: “Diplomats at more than 40 American embassies serve as honorary board members or in other capacities at the chamber’s foreign affiliates, blurring the lines between the organization’s policy and American policy.”

The Times articles and a subsequent report from global health groups show that the Chamber’s pro-tobacco activities span the globe and often target low- and middle-income countries vulnerable to bullying by the economic might of the leading U.S. business lobby. The report – Blowing Smoke for Big Tobacco – showed that the U.S. Chamber has fought policies consistent with the international public health treaty, the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which has been ratified by 179 countries and the European Union. The policies include laws related to smoke-free workplaces and public places, higher tobacco taxes, tobacco advertising bans, graphic health warnings and provisions governing tobacco packages.

Until the U.S. Chamber of Commerce stops fighting tobacco control measures, we again call on members of the Chamber’s Board of Directors to withdraw from the Chamber. We also call on the U.S. government to ensure that its personnel do not support the Chamber’s pro-tobacco work or in any way oppose other countries’ efforts to reduce tobacco use.