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How Philip Morris, Tobacco Foes Tied the Knot ($$) 

Jump to full article: Roll Call, 2004-10-05
Author: Brody Mullins / Roll Call Staff


Moments after lawmakers unveiled landmark legislation last spring to impose the most sweeping regulations on cigarettes in history, two of the people most closely involved in the momentous compromise bumped into each other leaving a press conference on the deal.

Though they were just a few steps from each other outside the Senate's television studio, Matt Myers and Mark Berlind didn't shake hands, embrace or even say hello. Instead, they moved silently past each other, carefully avoiding eye contact.

Myers and Berlind may be the biggest winners if Congress approves the tobacco bill this week. But they're about as comfortable as boys and girls at a sixth-grade dance. . . .

But the awkward encounter that day belies an uncomfortable alliance between the two men and their organizations that has helped to move the tobacco bill closer than ever before to the president's desk.

In the next few days, Members of Congress will decide whether they will include the compromise tobacco bill in a corporate tax bill that they hope to approve by Friday.

Thanks to separate but equally calculated decisions by Philip Morris and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, each has broken ranks with their typical allies, formed a secret alliance and met clandestinely to iron out key sticking points on the legislation.

"It's the most unusual alliance I have seen in a while," said Rep. Henry Waxman, a 15-term Democrat from California and author of the House version of the tobacco bill.

The talks between Philip Morris and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids took place on Capitol Hill even as the two sides battled over a $200 billion Justice Department lawsuit in a federal courthouse a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue.

The face-to-face negotiating sessions and conference calls were so sensitive that Philip Morris and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids refused to tell even their closest allies . . . .

Altria executive Berlind first laid out a case for supporting federal regulations in a 23-page internal memo dated Oct. 1, 1998. (http://www.tobacco.org/news/176391.html) . . .

The transition accelerated a few months later with a Philip Morris public relations campaign called "PM21" - an effort to polish the company's image. . . .

Unbeknownst to their allies in the public health community, representatives of the Tobacco Free Kids spoke with Philip Morris lobbyists several times and met at least once to iron out language that both sides could accept. . . .

Tobacco Free Kids swallowed a provision that gives Congress sole authority to ban cigarettes or to reduce nicotine levels to zero.

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Quotes from this article:

You don't negotiate with the enemy. You don't sit down with the tobacco companies. There is no reason for a public health group to put compromises in a bill unless they are trying to appease Philip Morris in order to retain their support for the bill.
Mike Seigel, a Boston University professor with close ties to the antismoking movement, on the CTFK/MO partnership in working for FDA regulation.

[Myers and Corr of Tobacco-Free Kids] are most definitely pursuing this [FDA regulation] for the public interest. They are definitely not pursuing it because they have any sympathy whatsoever for the tobacco industry.
John Scruggs, vice president of government affairs for Altria Group.

Guilty as charged, if the charge is did we roll up our sleeves and say, 'What are we going to accomplish?' and 'How do we get there?'
Matt Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, on working with Philip Morris to attain FDA regulation of tobacco.