It is always good to keep tabs on tactics employed by other industries (i.e.: tobacco, coal, pharmaceutical), mainly since the food and beverage industries tend to follow suit.
Consider the latest — strategic alliances with black groups and leaders — from tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds.
- “Tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds, the top seller of the menthol cigarettes favored by most black smokers, is seizing on the hot button issue of police harassment of blacks to counter efforts by public health advocates to restrict menthol sales.”
- “In recent months, the company has quietly enlisted black groups and leaders, including civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton and ex-Florida Congressman Kendrick B. Meek, to hold meetings at prominent black churches on the theme of “Decriminalizing the Black Community.” Sharpton and Meek, along with speakers from groups involved in criminal justice reform, have warned of the unintended consequences of banning cigarettes with the minty, throat-numbing additive–namely, the risk of creating an underground market and giving police new reasons to lock up black males. The meetings have been held at churches in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Oakland, and in other forums.”
- “Reynolds makes Newport cigarettes, the most popular menthol and the No. 2 U.S. cigarette brand overall, with a market share of nearly 14 percent. The company has paid travel costs for the panelists and contributed to their organizations, according to the panelists and Reynolds spokesman David Howard.”
- “In an interview with FairWarning, Sharpton said Meek, a Reynolds consultant who serves as moderator at the meetings, ”asked us to consider the unintended consequences of a menthol ban,” and also asked him to appear at several of the churches. Sharpton said he expects the National Action Network to take a position on a menthol ban at its convention in April.”
- “Meek, who could not be reached, is a former Florida highway patrolman later elected to Congress, serving four terms in the House of Representatives before losing to Marco Rubio in the 2010 race for U.S. Senate. Over the years, the tobacco industry contributed $202,510 to his congressional campaigns and leadership political action committee, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Meek received $104,342 of that in the 2009-10 campaign cycle, more than any other member of Congress except North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr.”
- “There is no evidence that menthols are more toxic than other cigarettes. But health authorities describe menthol cigarettes as a starter product, saying menthol anesthetizes the throat, helping beginners to tolerate the harshness of tobacco smoke so they are more likely to become addicted. For these reasons, said a 2013 report by the Food and Drug Administration, it is “likely that menthol cigarettes pose a public health risk above that seen with non-menthol cigarettes”–a conclusion cigarette makers hotly reject.”
- “Along with Sharpton and Meek, speakers at the Reynolds-sponsored meetings have included John I. Dixon III, former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, which lists Reynolds American Inc. , parent of R.J. Reynolds, as one of its corporate partners. Other panelists have been Neill Franklin, a former Maryland State Police narcotics officer and executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership; and Art Way, Colorado state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.”
- “The tobacco industry “is great at marketing … so they send celebrity Al Sharpton,” said LaTrisha Vetaw, who is policy and advocacy manager for the North Point Health and Wellness Center in Minneapolis. “A couple of people in the room said, ‘Well, Al Sharpton’s here so this must be important.”
- “Valerie Yerger, who attended an October meeting at the Beebe Memorial Cathedral in Oakland, had her microphone cut off when she tried to raise the issue of Reynolds’ involvement in the event, according to interviews and a report by Oakland North, a newspaper published by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Yerger, an associate professor of nursing at UC San Francisco who has researched the history of tobacco industry support for African-American groups, said the campaign shows that cigarette makers are continuing to use ‘influential black leaders and their organizations as a front group to promote industry interests.”