Comments: 2273 • Responses: 16  • Date: 

missvh1702 karma

If the bills are intended to be weak/ineffective, how is this being accomplished? What, specifically, would their weaknesses be?

takenorinvalid1696 karma

I kind of answer that question here:


But, as a shorter answer, the bills supported by McConnell and Romney literally don't do anything but put the legal smoking age up to 21.

Dr. Ruth Malone believes these bills are intended to stop the growing trend of tough, state laws against e-cigarettes by giving the battle against teen vaping a sort of "Mission Accomplished" banner that doesn't really sufficiently affect teen smoking rates.

Admittedly, that's conjecture -- but the biggest proof supporting it is Project Sunrise, a leaked strategy from when the company was called Philip Morris. Their internal memos specifically outline a strategy to "minimize the effectiveness of the anti-tobacco industry" by focusing the conversation on "youth access to tobacco" instead of marketing bans.

You can read that memo for yourself here:


ownworstenemy1344 karma

The evidence suggests that these federal Tobacco to 21 bills are intended to be ineffective and, in some cases, have language that would relax FDA restrictions on Altria's e-cigarettes, making it easier for them to market them to kids.

What is the evidence of this?

takenorinvalid2172 karma

Long answer. Apologies in advance.

Rep. Aderholt's Bill:

One federal Tobacco to 21 bill, proposed by Rep. Robert Aderholt, snuck in a legal definition of "vapor product" that would have kept Altria's newest e-cigarette, iQOS, from being classified as a cigarette.'

Tobacco-Free Kids very quickly pointed this out and Aderholt's bill got a lot of bad press. It's unlikely that bill will pass.

These are called "Trojan Horse" bills, and they're not a new idea. Last year, Texas Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole snuck a provision into an Appropriations bill that exempted "premium cigars" from FDA regulations. You can read a bit about that here.

McConnell and Romney's Bills:

The other two bills are more complicated, so bear with me here through a long answer.

About one week after Aderholt's bill was exposed, Mitch McConnell announced his bill - which again got bad press and was associated with Altria.

Two weeks after that, Utah Republicans Romney and Stewart announced their support for a third bill.

Altria lobbied in support of both of those bills. They're pretty much identical - they raise the legal age to 21 and literally don't do anything else.

Tobacco Policy expert Ruth Malone believes that McConnell's is a continuation of an old Altria strategy called "Project Sunrise". You can read an internal memo outlining that strategy here.

Essentially, the strategy outlined in that memo is to support and help put through what they call "moderate" tobacco control campaigns and legislation. They specifically say, in the memo, that they should focus on laws and campaigns that focus on "youth access to tobacco" to keep the conversation away from "bans on advertising".

This, Malone says, is because:

  1. They don't really sufficiently affect tobacco sales -- 90% of smokers start before they're of legal age
  2. They distract the conversation away from more effective measures like marketing regulations
  3. They get people talking about tobacco as something "for adults", which appeals to kids.

15 state Tobacco to 21 laws have been passed in the last year, and some of them include rules against e-cigarette flavors and marketing practices -- things that'll actually affect Altria's ability to sell to kids.

If McConnell or Romney's bills get passed, it's expected to stop the trend of states enacting tougher laws that'll actually affect their sales. It's likely that they'll also work as "mission accomplished" that'll kill out the fervor for some other bills that would increase FDA regulations on e-cigarette flavors and marketing practices.

They'll last for a while, too. On average, studies say, it takes 17 years to get a weak law replaced.

Incidentally, the lobbyists hired to support these bills were simultaneously asked to push for lighter FDA restrictions on e-cigarettes or exemptions for Altria's products. Unlike Aderholt's bill, we haven't seen those requests worked directly into these bills, but we could see that request granted in other, less obvious ways.

Frank Pallone's Bill

The fourth bill proposed last month was presented by Frank Pallone, and it's just a great example of what Altria's trying to keep from getting passed.

It's tough -- it bans e-cigarette flavors, limits marketing practices, and does a lot of other stuff Altria doesn't want to see happen.

It's also the only federal Tobacco to 21 bill they haven't publicly supported and that we can't link to them in any way.

hiGUYYS259 karma

So let me get this straight. Your claim is narrow and not very explosive: that the bill is not intended by Altria to keep nicotine away from kids. Your evidence for this claim 1. The bill does not contain even stronger prohibitions on the sale of flavors. 2. The sponsors of the bill are from tobacco states (Mitch McConnell from Kentucky) 3. Altria (makes of Marlboro/investor in JUUL) lobbies the sponsors of the bills 4. In the past cigarette companies have targeted kids and continue to do so 5. Activists think Altria is still going to target kids

So basically you went online and looked at who donated to Mitch McConnell. Saw it was Altria and took a screenshot. Then did a bit of background research on the history of Phillip Morris advertising to kids, then shot some emails to anti-tobacco advocates to get quotes from them being mean to cigarette companies. And then come on here for an AMA.

What exactly is it that you are adding to the conversation? Where exactly do you see a problem, or something worth actually “investigating”?

takenorinvalid322 karma

Fair question. Let me do my best to answer it.

What are you adding to the conversation?

The donations are McConnell's "being from Kentucky" aren't the key points. The key point is that Altria hired a lobbyist to ask McConnell to raise the legal smoking age to 21 and that, shortly afterward, McConnell announced a Tobacco to 21 bill.

Rep. Chris Stewart has confirmed that he spoke to tobacco lobbyists about his bill before going public with support for it. Altria has confirmed their role, as well.

The "hard fact" I'm contributing is that there is clear evidence showing that Altria asked lawmakers to support these federal Tobacco to 21 bills and that, shortly afterward, the lawmakers they spoke to introduced federal Tobacco to 21 bills.

So what if Philip Morris targets kids?

I believe you've misunderstood the "Project Sunrise" part of this story.

The point isn't that Philip Morris targets kids. It's that they wrote a corporate memo that specifically outlined a strategy to control the conversation around tobacco controls and focus it on "youth access to tobacco".

The goal, outlined in the strategy, is to "delegitimize" (Philip Morris's words) efforts to limit their marketing ability and to "minimize the effectiveness of the anti-tobacco industry" (their words again).

I spoke to Dr. Ruth Malone about this because she is the leading expert on Project Sunrise. She's explained to me that Altria took this approach because, if the conversation around tobacco control is focused on the minimum legal smoking age, it actually results in improved perceptions of tobacco products among young people.

Where exactly do you see a problem?

That's the big question that's driven the research. This started with my discovery that Altria had pushed for these bills -- but after that, I still had to figure out why they were doing it.

As you've mentioned, I did have to talk to anti-tobacco advocates and, as you put it, "get quotes from them being mean to cigarette companies" to try to understand that.

The people I spoke to are experts in tobacco regulations and industry practices who have an in-depth knowledge of their history. I don't know who better to talk to than them.

Tobacco-Free Kids thinks this isn't a huge deal. They're willing to take a Tobacco to 21 bill even if Altria supports it.

Malone's less convinced. She thinks that McConnell's bill is meant to pre-empt tougher legislation.

Personally, despite the tone in the article, I don't have any strong opinion on whether or not the bill should pass. I just believe that, if lobbyists and politicians are hiding something, it should be made public.

So I want everyone to know that Altria asked them to put these bills forward. You're welcome to react to that information however you choose.

MonkeyCzarFunny237 karma

Serious question: Do you feel like you’re perpetuating a media bias when you single out a republican (Mitch McConnell) in your AMA title, even though this is a bi-partisan bill co-sponsored by a Democrat (Tim Kaine)?

takenorinvalid81 karma

That's a fair question and point.

That wasn't my intention. I named McConnell and Romney because they're well-known names that I believed would attract more attention.

You are right, however, that all of these bills have bi-partisan support, and this isn't a Republican / Democrat issue.

yes_its_him203 karma

Did you leave this part out for any particular reason?

"That bill had already been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii. He’d drafted it three years earlier in 2015. "

takenorinvalid165 karma

Brevity. No other reason.

The date Schatz drafted that bill is significant because it suggests that Altria's lobbying efforts on the bill were effective.

A basic timeline of the bill goes:

2015: Schatz introduces the bill. Nothing happens.

2016: Nothing happens.

2017: Nothing happens.

2018: The FDA cracks down on e-cigarettes and Altria hires a lobbyist firm to ask Congress and Senators to support it.

2019: The bill bursts back into life with the newfound support of Romney and Stewart.

Stewart confirmed, in a personal interview, that he spoke to tobacco lobbyists about the bill, although he claimed not to be able to remember whether they were affiliated with Altria. He did, however, quote an Altria spokesperson in the statement he released announcing that he was going to co-sponsor the bill.

takenorinvalid173 karma

One little thing I want to add that I didn't manage to fit into the article:

Despite the impression I've given, I don't think Stewart and Romney are "evil" or "sold out to the tobacco lobby". Having spoken to Stewart, I believe that he - and most likely the other people behind that bill - genuinely think they're doing the right thing.

That being said, I also believe that Altria lobbied in favor of the bill because they believe that it will keep tougher bills from getting through.

DarkSoulFood61 karma

Why should I care?

Everyone who has ever smoked as a kid knows the issue is forbidden fruit and changing the legal age limit doesn't stop the appeal.

No more than banning fruity flavors will do anything because cigarettes tasted like shit before we had ecigarettes and we still had a problem with teens wanting to smoke them.

The extension of the age limit makes it harder for a young person to sustain the habit. It was easy to bum cigarettes off cooks when I was a 16 year old dishwasher. The hard part was when it turned into a pack a day habit and I had to find people to buy them for me in volume until I turned 18. It'll be even more of a pain in the ass to keep that up until 21.

It will be a good thing and you seem to be making a lot of assumptions on what they didn't do to create an overly nefarious narrative.

takenorinvalid27 karma

50% of my answer is "you shouldn't, and that's the point."

My impression is that most people don't really care if the legal smoking age is 21 or not. A few anti-tobacco advocates think it's a good idea, and Altria has jumped on board.

I believe that Project Sunrise and their lobbyist activity suggest that, despite their claims to the contrary, they support the bill because they don't think Tobacco to 21 is going to have a huge impact on their sales. The legal drinking age is 21, but kids still drink alcohol.

Last year, the whole debate around e-cigarettes was focused on Juul's marketing practices. Altria has successfully redirected that conversation so that, now, we're talking about increasing the legal smoking age to 21 instead.

After 20 years of declines in teen smoking rates, they skyrocketed between 2017 and 2018, and the CDC credits that change to Juul's youth-targeted marketing strategies.

The experts I've spoke to all agreed that rules on marketing strategies and changes to the way the public perceives e-cigarettes would actually make a difference on teen smoking rates.

They also all agreed that, if a federal Tobacco to 21 law is passed that doesn't involve any tougher measures, its impact is going to be minimal.

Ccstriker779 karma


takenorinvalid21 karma

I can't give anything other than an opinion on this one, but -- I mean, you could argue that that's just what lobbying is.

111_11_1_03 karma

From one of your comments here:

It's likely that they'll also work as "mission accomplished" that'll kill out the fervor for some other bills that would increase FDA regulations on e-cigarette flavors and marketing practices.

This seems to be the missing 'smoking gun' here. What bills have been presented recently that would have scared Altria into supporting this less effective one?

edit: ok crap I see I missed this point you made about Pallone's bill. But still, that bill was only presented last month, so what others are there, if any? Really I'm just asking why Altria saw the need to do this. So I'm not just asking about bills. Were there some studies done on smoking that have influenced congress in recent years or something?

takenorinvalid8 karma

Diana DeGette's e-cigarette flavor ban bill:


California's e-cigarette flavor ban:


New York's e-cigarette flavor ban:


There are others.

Basically, Juul made headlines last year when the FDA accused them of deliberately targetting teens with both e-cigarette flavors and marketing strategies. Since then, flavor ban movements have been growing.

obereasy2 karma

Are you aware this has been going on at the state level all across the country this year?

takenorinvalid3 karma

Yes. I think that's important to the story.

Several of the state laws already passed have been labeled "Trojan Horses", with provisions hidden inside to pre-empt local governments from making stricter rules and to stop bans on marketing practices and flavors.

I think that this New York Times article provides a great insight into the state-level issue for anyone interested:


kidfitzz1 karma

What is your advice to combat tobacco companies effectively?

And/ Or

Do you think that these actions would be less offensive if a healthier alternative was doing them?

takenorinvalid4 karma

I don't actually have any strong opinions on tobacco control, despite writing the piece. As I mentioned elsewhere, I like to find things politicians keep hidden and make them public.

The anti-tobacco advocates I spoke to both believe that changes to marketing practices and flavor prohibitions are needed to make any attempts to control e-cigarettes effective.

They'd know better than me. I just believe that people should be aware of the facts so that they can decide for themselves.

Some of you reading this and saying "I'm still fine with this bill", and I think that's a perfectly acceptable reaction.