The Tea Party’s ties to the tobacco industry |

The Tea Party’s ties to the tobacco industry

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Mike Brazil

In his letter entitled "Honesty and truth" of Feb. 10, Bob Webster tells us that "the Tea Party did not just appear out of thin air. They've been with us since the Boston Tea Party in 1773."

Either Mr. Webster is confused, or he's being disingenuous. The national website of the Tea Party Patriots ( states:

"The Tea Party movement spontaneously formed in 2009…"

While the date of origin of the current Tea Party movement provided on the website is accurate, the spontaneity mentioned is not. In a study funded by the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institute of Health, the roots of the Tea Party's anti-tax movement are traced back to the early 1980s when tobacco companies began investing in third-party groups to fight excise taxes on cigarettes and the results of health studies linking cancer and secondhand cigarette smoke.

Stanton Glantz, a senior author of the report and a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) professor of medicine, wrote:

"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."

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The two main organizations identified in the UCSF 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 (and funded) in 1984 by well-known industrialists David and Charles Koch. Citing the UCSF study, Al Gore said that the connections between market fundamentalists, the tobacco industry and the Tea Party could be traced to a 1971 memo from tobacco lawyer Lewis F. Powell Jr., who advocated more political power for corporations. Gore said that the Tea Party is an extension of this political strategy "to promote corporate profit at the expense of the public good."

Mr. Webster also states: "Some of the Tea Party Patriots objectives are: strict adherence to the U.S. Constitution; return to a smaller government resulting in less taxation without representation; stopping the spread of Obama's socialism; for Americans to accept responsibility for their actions; accountability from our government officials; and to return control of our country and borders to the people." Some of these are supported by statements on, but there is no mention of "Obama's socialism," turning over control of the country's borders to "the people" (U.S. border control has been the responsibility of the U.S. Border Patrol since 1853 and still is), and so on.

Mr. Webster's assertion in his first paragraph that the Tea Party has been with us since 1773 also points to some fundamental misunderstandings many people seem to have regarding the reasons behind the protest action by the Sons of Liberty in 1773, which later became known as the Boston Tea Party (John Adams called it "the Destruction of the Tea in Boston" when meeting with the Sons of Liberty to plan it).

In reality, the Boston Tea Party was not a protest against taxes being paid by colonists at all — it was a protest against British government policies that favored the East India Company at the expense of colonists.

On May 10, 1773, the British Parliament passed the Tea Act, which modified the import duties on tea imports in such a way that other tea importers to the colonies could not compete with the East India Company. As a result, the East India Company could undersell everyone else, even smugglers, in the colonies.

This was not a new tax, a tax increase or was in any way a direct tax owed by colonists. It was a market manipulation in the form of preferential tariffs to benefit both the East India Company and, by extension, the British government.

In terms of "honesty and truth," Mr. Webster's letter did honestly state his opinions, but much of what he presented as facts were fabrications, misunderstandings and distortions. Study and research early and recent American history, and you'll see this for yourself.

Mike Brazil lives in Grass Valley.

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