By Elizabeth Fernandez | UCSF.edu | February 8, 2013
Rather than being a purely grassroots movement that arose spontaneously in 2009, the Tea Party developed in part as a result of tobacco industry efforts to oppose smoking restrictions and tobacco taxes beginning in the 1980s, according to a study by researchers at UC San Francisco.
"Nonprofit organizations associated with the Tea Party movement have longstanding ties to tobacco companies, and continue to advocate on behalf of the tobacco industry’s anti-tax, anti-regulation agenda,” said senior author Stanton A. Glantz, PhD, director of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education (CTCRE) and a UCSF professor of medicine and American Legacy Foundation Distinguished Professor in Tobacco Control.
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.
The research uncovered the tobacco industry’s ongoing opposition to health care reform, dating back to a major campaign waged against President Bill Clinton’s proposed 75-cent cigarette tax to help finance it.
"Tea party symbolism is nothing new for cigarette companies and their allies, which for many years have been cynically using a hallowed symbol of American freedom in order to advance their own interests,” said co-author Rachel Grana, PhD, a CTCRE fellow.
The UCSF researchers sounded a call for greater transparency of organization funding "so that policymakers and the general public – including people who identify with the Tea Party – can evaluate claims of political support for, and opposition to, health and other public policies."