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Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton and Big Tobacco  

Jump to full article: PR Watch, 2007-07-03
Author: Submitted by Bob Burton on Tue, 07/03/2007 - 00:05.


Mark Penn, CEO of the global PR firm Burson-Marsteller (B-M) and president of the polling firm Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates (PSB), feels misunderstood.

Penn was recently in the news when several union officials expressed concern that Democratic Presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton had hired him as a "key strategic adviser," even though B-M has a specialist unit that advises clients on defeating union campaigns. Not surprisingly, Clinton's campaign shrugged off the criticism, insisting that he is a "vital member of our team." . . .

A little digging reveals that, for well over two decades, both Penn and his opinion polling company have advised the tobacco industry on how to counter the campaigns of the tobacco control movement. Based on internal tobacco industry documents, it is clear that Penn and his colleagues have little personal sympathy for those promoting policies that put public health ahead of the interests of the tobacco industry.

Penn's work as a strategist and pollster for the tobacco industry goes way back. In 1989 Gus Weill from Penn and Schoen Associates (PSA), as it was known at the time, dispatched a proposal to Elizabeth Veanus of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJR) outlining how PSA would go about researching the company's prospects of establishing a branch of a smoker's rights group in Harlem. . . .

Another longstanding client of PSB, as PSA became known after Michael Berland joined the firm, is the world's largest private tobacco company, Philip Morris (PM). Like RJR, PM had tried to mobilize "grassroots" opposition to tobacco control measures. It was a strategy that relied on using a front group -- in PM's case the National Smokers Alliance -- to shore up political opposition to reforms while it attempted to rebuild its political defenses via traditional lobbying and PR campaigns. But as the court findings against tobacco became more frequent, PM and other tobacco companies' political standing evaporated. As the evidence of the dramatic health impacts of environmental tobacco smoke grew, support for bans on smoking in public spaces -- such as bars and restaurants -- grew. Once more, PSB volunteered to help defend the indefensible.

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