An Unhealthy Alliance: Tobacco Companies and Anti-smoking

Aeon J. Skoble,

Release Date
May 14, 2015


Lobbying & Special Interests

Why are cities across America considering bans on e cigarettes and vaping? And what do the tobacco industry and anti-tobacco groups have in common?
Prof. Aeon Skoble looks at the motivations of the groups who want to ban e cigarettes and vaping. While anti-tobacco groups want to ban e cigarettes out of concern for public health, big tobacco companies also want to ban e cigarettes to protect their profits and to prevent people from using e cigarettes to quit smoking.
These special interest groups, even though they have different motivations, end up lobbying for the same regulation to ban vaping and e cigarettes. Public choice economists call this type of alliance a “bootleggers and baptists” scenario.

Article: “The Economist Explains: Who Opposes E-Cigarettes, And Why?”: The Economist debunks a few common misconceptions and chronicles the opposition from health, tobacco, and pharmaceutical lobbyists.
Article: “When Bootleggers and Baptists Converge”: Washington Post journalist George F. Will explains the movement to ban e-cigarettes using Bruce Yandle’s famous theory.
Article: “Lobbyists Amp Up Efforts To Sell Washington On E-Cigarettes”: NPR reporter Liz Halloran explores the push to legalize vaping and the counter-movement against it.
Article: “The FDA Is Coming For Your E-Cigs”: Gizmodo writer Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan outlines a series of recent FDA restrictions on sale, possession, and use of e-cigarettes.
Article: “F.D.A. Will Propose New Regulations For E-Cigarettes”: NYT Author Sabrina Tavernise explains how lobbyist influences were  instrumental in the passage of new e-cigarette regulations.

Speaker 1:       Why are cities across America considering bans on e-cigarettes and vaping? Is it to protect public health? While that’s what you typically hear, I think there’s another important explanation. After all, there are lots of unhealthy products that nobody’s trying to ban.
One reason vaping, in particular, is being targeted is do to lobbying from big businesses. Namely, tobacco companies. Hold on. Aren’t some of the people pushing for bans on e-cigarettes the same folks who used to lobby against big tobacco? Absolutely.
Many anti-tobacco activists have become anti-vaping activists. Saying that just like regular cigarettes, e-cigarettes could be dangerous for people’s health or that they could send the wrong message to kids.
Now those activists find themselves on the same side as their formal foes since tobacco company lobbyists are fighting e-cigarettes, too. They’re worried about their bottom line. Studies show that vaping is twice as effective as other methods in helping people quit smoking.
By pushing for regulations that make e-cigarettes less accessible to consumers they ensure that more people will keep smoking tobacco. We’ve got a classic case of what some scholars call the “Bootleggers and Baptists Phenomena.”
Well-intentioned activists end up pushing for the same rules in the interests they actually oppose. This helps lend all the lobbying efforts an air of legitimacy. They can claim it’s for public health.
Meanwhile, most of the lobbying money is on the side interests that don’t care about health. They care about getting an unfair advantage over their competitors by using government regulations to work in their favor.
The tobacco company, RJ Reynolds, has even hedged their bets by starting to make their own brands of e-cigarettes, while simultaneously lobbying for bans against other types of e-cigarettes. The kinds they don’t make. Claiming that those kinds are a bigger health risk. Talk about an unfair advantage.
Unfortunately, situations like this are not uncommon. In every industry, you’ll find businesses that are using their money to lobby the government to get regulations passed that look like they’re in the public interest, but actually benefit them at the expense of their competitors.
Doesn’t it seem wrong that these big businesses get to decide what you do with your body and your property? Isn’t that for you to decide? A better approach would be allowing individuals and property owners to decide where e-cigarettes can be used … not to enact regulations that make it harder for smokers to quit.