Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Vinny DeMarco: Friend of Big Tobacco


Vinny DeMarco is a friend of Big Tobacco.

Yep you read that right. DeMarco is one of Big Tobacco’s or more specifically Phillip Morris’ best allies.

Here’s why.

Last summer Barack Obama signed into the law the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act with DeMarco on hand in the Rose Garden to witness the event. Faith United Against Tobacco, a group organized and managed by DeMarco lobbied heavily for the bill.

So did Phillip Morris the largest tobacco company in the United States. In fact Phillip Morris has “supported legislation that would provide for tough but reasonable federal regulation of tobacco products by the Food and Drug Administration for more than eight years.”

According to Tim Carney, author of Obamanomics, Phillip Morris products accounted for 50.4% of all cigarettes sold in stores in the last quarter of 2008. Phillip Morris’ Marlboro’s accounted for 41.6% of those sales. That is, Marlboros outsold all cigarette brands than Phillip Morris’ top two competitors combined.

It is in pure self interest that corporate giant Phillip Morris would support the regulations embodied in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. The law imposes mandates on it’s competitors such as tests on ingredients in the smoke, which it already conducts. It also imposes advertising and marketing restrictions that hurts Phillip Morris competitors while decreasing advertising costs for the widely known Marlboro brand.

When the law was first introduced back in 2004 Phillip Morris and its corporate parent, Altria, fully endorsed the bill. Carney notes that between 2004 and 2009 the gestation period of Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, Altria spent $88 million in lobbying.
According to Slate the public health benefits are dubious at cements Phillip Morris’s market dominance.

"It is a dream come true for Philip Morris," Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, told me. "First, they make it look like they are a reformed company which really cares about reducing the toll of cigarettes and protecting the public's health; and second, they protect their domination of the market and make it impossible for potentially competitive products to enter the market." Other tobacco companies have taken to calling the bill the "Marlboro Monopoly Act of 2009."

It's hard to fathom where Congress is finding the political cover necessary to pass an industry-sponsored love letter like this one. But it's coming from Philip Morris' partner in crafting the legislation: a nonprofit anti-smoking organization called Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

DeMarco’s Faith United Against Tobacco is a creature of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Campaign for Tobacco-Free kids was a direct but secret ally of Altria in the push to pass the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. This was part of Phillip Morris’ Project Sunrise designed to divide and conquer the anti-tobacco movement in the late 1990s.

Media reports laud Vinny DeMarco, famed foe of evil big tobacco, for his principled stand and organizational genius. Yet DeMarco was right there in the middle of all of it a willing participant in Project Sunrise, helping Phillip Morris sell more cigarettes.

Keep up the good fight Vinny, you've shamed Phillip Morris--all the way to the bank and market dominance.

Of course, as head of Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, DeMarco needs Phillip Morris to sell more cigarettes, especially in Maryland because the tax proceeds fund his pet cause of ever expanding government run health care.

Instead of handing out jars of his mom’s tomato sauce to lawmakers he might as well be handing out cartons of Marlboros.

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