This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.
The Partisan Project was an internal project of the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company (RJR) begun in 1986 to organize smokers nationally to rise up and vocally defend the practice and social acceptability of smoking, and to serve as seemingly "independent" grassroots lobbying arm for the tobacco industry. The program was RJR's under-the-radar response to the proliferation of laws and regulations at that time prohibiting smoking in shared public venues like workplaces and restaurants. According to a memo issued by Thomas L. Ogburn, Jr. (Director of Public Issues at RJR) to Edward A. Horrigan, Jr. (Chief Executive Officer), the rationale for the Project was as follows:
Currently, anti-smoking extremists are dominating the media and slowly but surely seizing control of the legislative process,resulting in more rules and regulations that unfairly discriminate against those who choose to smoke...The lack of 'public' opposition to this discrimination has created the perception that smokers don't care about their rights and are certainly not willing to do anything about it. The 'Partisan Project' is designed to correct this misconception.
RJR used its massive database of millions of smokers nationwide to find those smokers who supported RJR on at least one of the company's major issues, contacted them, provided argumentation, media training, "motivation" and "presented them with avenues for opposition."
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- T. L. Ogburn (RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company), "Partisan Project", letter, November 14, 1986.