Study Links Tobacco, Tea Party, Climate Denial,… and Fox News.

February 19, 2013

The anti-science movement is rooted in the decades old realization among conservative corporate and political entities, that the findings of science were not always compatible with the economic interests of the wealthy and powerful. (read this post first for background. If you still have 17 minutes, the video above is worth your time)

The publication of an exhaustive investigation into the origins of a tobacco funded anti-science movement got headlines last week, as clear lines can now be drawn between corporate pirates like David Koch, the Tobacco barons, and “grassroots” movements like the Tea Party, all of which are prominent in the climate denial movement. (for example, we have at least one prominent Tea Party member who regularly posts his climate denialist views in comment threads here)

UC San Francisco:

The study, which appears on Feb. 8 in the journal Tobacco Control, shows that rhetoric and imagery evoking the 1773 Boston Tea Party were used by tobacco industry representatives as early as the 1980s as part of an industry-created “smokers’ rights’’ public relations campaign opposing increased cigarette taxes and other anti-smoking initiatives.

From previously secret tobacco industry documents available at the UCSF Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, IRS filings and other publicly available documents, the study authors traced a decades-long chain of personal, corporate and financial relationships between tobacco companies, tobacco industry lobbying and public relations firms and nonprofit organizations associated with the Tea Party.


A new academic study confirms that front groups with longstanding ties to the tobacco industry and the billionaire Koch brothers planned the formation of the Tea Party movement more than a decade before it exploded onto the U.S. political scene.

Far from a genuine grassroots uprising, this astroturf effort was curated by wealthy industrialists years in advance. Many of the anti-science operatives who defended cigarettes are currently deploying their tobacco-inspired playbook internationally to evade accountability for the fossil fuel industry’s role in driving climate disruption.

The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Health, traces the roots of the Tea Party’s anti-tax movement back to the early 1980s when tobacco companies began to invest in third party groups to fight excise taxes on cigarettes, as well as health studies finding a link between cancer and secondhand cigarette smoke.

Published in the peer-reviewed academic journal, Tobacco Control, the study titled, ‘To quarterback behind the scenes, third party efforts’: the tobacco industry and the Tea Party, is not just an historical account of activities in a bygone era. As senior author, Stanton Glantz, a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) professor of medicine, writes:

“Nonprofit organizations associated with the Tea Party have longstanding ties to tobacco companies, and continue to advocate on behalf of the tobacco industry’s anti-tax, anti-regulation agenda.”

The two main organizations identified in the UCSF Quarterback study are Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks. Both groups are now “supporting the tobacco companies’ political agenda by mobilizing local Tea Party opposition to tobacco taxes and smoke-free laws.” Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity were once a single organization called Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). CSE was founded in 1984 by the infamous Koch Brothers, David and Charles Koch, and received over $5.3 million from tobacco companies, mainly Philip Morris, between 1991 and 2004.

In 1990, Tim Hyde, RJR Tobacco’s head of national field operations, in an eerily similar description of the Tea Party today, explained why groups like CSE were important to the tobacco industry’s fight against government regulation. Hyde wrote:

“… coalition building should proceed along two tracks: a) a grassroots organizational and largely local track,; b) and a national, intellectual track within the DC-New York corridor. Ultimately, we are talking about a “movement,” a national effort to change the way people think about government’s (and big business) role in our lives. Any such effort requires an intellectual foundation – a set of theoretical and ideological arguments on its behalf.”

The common public understanding of the origins of the Tea Party is that it is a popular grassroots uprising that began with anti-tax protests in 2009.

However, the Quarterback study reveals that in 2002, the Kochs and tobacco-backed CSE designed and made public the first Tea Party Movement website under the web address Here’s a screenshot of the archived U.S. Tea Party site, as it appeared online on Sept. 13, 2002:

Rolling Stone:

In the 1980s, the study found, the tobacco industry launched a PR campaign focused around the idea that cigarette taxes, public health studies and other anti-smoking initiatives infringed on “smokers’ rights.” Anything that curtailed industry profits would be recast as an infringement on smokers by an intrusive government. Sound familiar?

In 1993, an ad executive working for Phillip Morris proposed that the Coalition Against Regressive Taxation form a new campaign that, 20 years later, sounds a lot like what we know today: “Grounded in the theme of ‘The New American Tax Revolution’ or ‘The New Boston Tea Party,’ the campaign should take the form of citizens representing the widest constituency base mobilized with signage and other attention-drawing accoutrements such as lapel buttons, handouts, petitions and even costumes.”

News of the study has touched a nerve on the right wing blogosphere, and prompted an outraged harrumph from Fox News:

The charge that the Tea Party is a tool of broader corporate interests is one often leveled by Democratic critics. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was fond of calling the movement “astroturf” in the run-up to the 2010 mid-term elections where Tea Partiers helped Republicans take control of the House.

The research at the University of California-San Francisco echoes the claim, while weaving in an attractive narrative for Tea Party critics — that the Tea Party is continuing the agenda of the tobacco industry.

Tea Party leaders, though, roundly rejected the findings. They argued that the groups the study focused on do not compose the entirety of the movement, and that the tobacco issue is a relatively minor aspect of the present-day small-government agenda.

And they complained that a study that arguably targeted administration critics was funded by taxpayers.

“It’s an example of the frivolous spending inside the government … that has landed us $17 trillion in debt,” said Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin.

So it’s delightful to find this paragraph in the study,

…the conservative media, including Fox News and the network of conservative talk radio hosts and bloggers, provided a unified forum to amplify these messages. The tobacco industry has played a part in building this network, both by working with Roger Ailes (who subsequently became Fox News CEO) and funding the National Journalism Center which ‘train[s] budding journalists in free market political and economic principles.’

The statement is backed by copious footnotes and links to original tobacco industry documents from the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library – internal memos released as part of the settlement of lawsuits against the tobacco industry. (click images for pdf of originals):



ailes4-1The video at top of this page is a 17 minute lecture from study author Amanda Fallin, which very clearly draws the major outlines of the study.

Poignantly, Fallin concludes by noting that “people who support the Tea Party favor smoke free laws at virtually the same rate as people who were opposed to the Tea Party.” So at the grassroots level, legitimate feelings of patriotism, national pride, concerns about big government and the economy, have been co-opted and bent, with low information voters attending Glenn Beck rallies, reading from a script prepared for them decades ago, serving a corporate agenda of which they have absolutely no knowledge, and which is counter to their own best, highest wellbeing.


18 Responses to “Study Links Tobacco, Tea Party, Climate Denial,… and Fox News.”

  1. Jeremy Nathan Marks Says:

    Reblogged this on The Sand County and commented:
    This is very interesting to read and listen to. I certainly thought it was worth sharing.

  2. Wes Says:

    I believe it was Earl Nightingale that once said. “A few people think, a lot more think they think, but most people would rather die than think.” I’m reminded of that quote every time I see the Tea Party folks in their costumes, supporting candidates and causes that are dedicated to throwing them under the bus. Any woman that votes GOP would have to fall in that category, too.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      reacting is easy.
      thinking is hard. it hurts.

    • swamiwilly Says:

      It was Bertrand Russell who said “People would rather die than think. Many do.” Also, to paraphrase another great philosopher, Immanual Kant, “Thinking is hard work. That’s why so many people don’t do it.”

      Also, great expose of Tea Party astroturfism in the documentary “The Billionaire’s Tea Party” which you can livestream from Netflix.

  3. omnologos Says:

    This stuff always hovers right above conspiracy theorism. There’s money in American politics …yes! There are pressure groups paid by determined individuals …yes! (DESMOG doesn’t live out of thin air either). Are American citizens a bunch of manipulated morons…well, no.

    If you believe they are no amount of denounciation will.suffice

    A more likely explanation for the difficult relationship between US culture and science is to be found in the know-nothing tradition, itself a consequence of the primacy of the individual over everything else.

    • Wes Says:

      Another of your “Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.” posts? With a little seasoning of false equivalency? What the data clearly shows is that there was, and is, a conspiracy and the motive is clear. Not ideology, but money. Follow the money.
      BTW, the article does not claim or assume that American citizens are manipulated morons (generalization alert) only that the campaigns were specifically designed to push certain hot buttons of some groups of low information voters so that they would support a cause against their own best interests. And they did that very well.

    • Alteredstory Says:

      The difference between this and most conspiracy theories is that there’s a clear line of evidence here.

      There ARE real conspiracies in the world, which is why some of the more absurd conspiracy theories gain traction (moon landing, etc.).

      There was a conspiracy to mislead into Vietnam, and there was a conspiracy surrounding the Iran-Contra scandal, and so on.

      The difference between an actual conspiracy and a whack-a-loon bit of nonsense is evidence matched against reality.

      Do you have something that shows the chain of evidence here to be false?

    • The Desmog chairman would not get an $8,000,000 severance check – as did Dick “couldn’t leave with empty pockets” Armey.

  4. […] The anti-science movement is rooted in the decades old realization among conservative corporate and political entities, that the findings of science were not always compatible with the economic int…  […]

  5. This stuff always hovers right above conspiracy theorism

    As if people never conspire together!

    Here we have documentation of wealthy individuals and corporations conspiring together, setting up obfuscatory layers of shell organizations to hide their involvement, and conducting campaigns of deliberate disinformation to raise their profits at the expense of the health of everyday people.

    And omnologos tells us that pointing this out is tantamount to paranoia. Yet another trenchant post from the know-it-all.

  6. Peter Mizla Says:

    The link between the Tea Party, Tobacco, Fox News has done a splendid job in destroying our climate. We will now not be able to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Question is do we want to go beyond this dreadful future? Americans have no idea that their fate is now sealed. They can continue to enjoy their deadly carbon rich lifestyles unimpeded. The point will come however when it all will come tumbling down-

  7. […] Links Tobacco, Tea Party, Climate Denial…And Climate Change. Climate Denial Crock of the Week has the story (and video clio). Here’s an excerpt: ”The anti-science movement is […]

  8. […] 2013/02/19: PSinclair: Study Links Tobacco, Tea Party, Climate Denial …. and Fox News […]

  9. […] need thinkers and activists like Kopplin and Jacoby more than ever. Want proof? Try this story linking a certain news network with pignorance around tobacco and climate change. Or maybe this […]

  10. […] that Big Tobacco and Big Energy/Climate Change Deniers are often the same individuals–as this Climate Rocks story about a peer-reviewed research study that exposes an Axis of Anti-Science (Big Tobacco, Climate […]

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