George Monbiot has a piece out in The Guardian today railing against libertarian/free market thinktanks that take tobacco money while lobbying for policies that favour tobacco companies. However, I think that Monbiot gets one crucial aspect wrong. The gist of the argument is as follows;
Tobacco companies are not allowed to advertise their products. Nor, as they are so unpopular, can they appeal directly to the public. So they spend their cash on astroturfing (fake grassroots campaigns) and front groups. There is plenty of money to be made by people unscrupulous enough to take it.
I don’t think it is helpful to assume bad faith on the behalf of these lobbyists. They appear to genuinely believe in their cause, and it can be argued that they don’t take money to believe in the freedom of tobacco manufacturers to sell more tobacco, but they believe that tobacco manufacturers should have the right to sell more tobacco so they take money from like minded people.
Otherwise it would be relatively trivial for rich activists, such as George, to collectively bung them £40,000 or so to change their minds. If, as he claims,
The institute has almost unrivalled access to the BBC and other media, where it promotes the corporate agenda without ever being asked to disclose its interests.
Then this would be a cost effective method of broadcasting an anti-smoking message using lobbyists for hire.
I would be extremely surprised if pro-tobacco lobbyists changed their positions in response.
Of course most of their arguments are hypocritical, damaging and rely on ignoring evidence, so should be opposed on these grounds alone.
But we should at least assume they are sincere.