Today's Post-Gazette reports on new developments in a proposed smoking ban:
Now, as lawmakers return to Harrisburg, a coalition of interested groups is trying a new tactic to get the Legislature to reach an agreement on legislation to ban smoking in workplaces, bars, restaurants and casinos.
"Interested groups," eh? What kind of interested groups? Well...
This week, advertisements, paid for by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and calling for a statewide law banning smoking in the workplace, have started to run in newspapers and on radio stations across the state.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation? Who the hell are they? Surely the Post-Gazette asked around. Or maybe not. The paper doesn't offer any details about the group. But it's paying a kajillion dollars to influence legislation in Pennsylvania. Despite being located in New jersey. Hmmm...
Turns out that RWJF is one of the biggest and most powerful philanthropic organizations on the planet. It dumps gobs of cash on all sorts of things. Like alcohol control and tobacco control and trans-fat control. Sense a theme?
Perhaps even more important, as you might see from the links, RWJF has very close ties with Johnson & Johnson. The gargantuan pharmaceutical company. Which just so happens to produce and sell products such as Nicoderm and Nicoderm CQ. Both designed to help people... lose weight? Get over a fear of public speaking?
No. Nicoderm is designed to help people quit smoking.
Getting people to quit smoking is one of the stated goals of most campaigns to ban smoking in bars and restaurants.
OK. So maybe that's muckraking. And maybe just because some people have a vested interest in some given legislation doesn't mean that's the only reason they support that legislation. And maybe the Post-Gazette holds a hard line on that position.
Or maybe not. Here's a news story from a few months back detailing a lawsuit several bar owners filed against a smoking ban. It goes into great detail about Big Tobacco, and how the evil forces of corporate America were funding the lawsuit. It was headlined: "Tobacco company funding legal challenge to smoking ban." The Post-Gazette ran a follow-up editorial the next day:
Inevitably, a couple of establishments sued and, to the unwary, they may seem like sympathetic plaintiffs: Mitchell's Bar and Restaurant and the Smithfield Cafe, Downtown, where smokers have been welcome for years.
But, as it turns out, these redoubts of the common man have an uncommonly rich supporter: R.J. Reynolds. The Post-Gazette has been told that the huge tobacco company, which is based in Winston-Salem, N.C., is paying the legal bills for the restaurant owners.
There's nothing unusual about this. It is par for the course. In the Nov. 7 election in Ohio, R.J. Reynolds spent millions of dollars in unsuccessfully supporting Issue 4, a smokescreen referendum question that was meant to fool voters and sabotage a genuine anti-smoking initiative backed by the American Cancer Society among others.
It was further proof that Big Tobacco will stop at nothing to try to block legislation that sensibly limits the use of its noxious products in the interests of public health. When the lawsuit is heard in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court next week, the public needs to know that the sympathetic party is not the one backed by R.J. Reynolds.
So. If the Post-Gazette's editors get pissed off when hugely wealthy entities that have a financial interest in proposed legislation try to impact that legislation, we ought to be seeing an editorial blasting RWJF's ads tomorrow. Right?
Or is the indignation selectively applied?
I have come to expect it from the editorial page. But I do hope that the news pages will at least take a look at RWJF's interests in future articles.