"Government intervention"

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

"Too much government intervention" or too much "government intrusion" are propaganda themes developed by the tobacco industry to convince voters to support pro-industry positions on issues like public smoking restrictions and cigarette taxes.

The tobacco industry deployed the "too much big government" theme in the 1970s to fight smoke-free laws. The goal was to shift the public's attention away from the health hazards of secondhand smoke and onto a topic more in the industry's favor. A 1978 Tobacco Institute presentation about fighting a clean indoor air ballot measure in California states,

Our judgement, confirmed by research, was that the battle could not be waged successfully over the health issue. It was imperative, in our judgement, to shift the battleground from health to a field more distant and less volatile ... and the best opportunity for an alternate battlefiled lay in the area of government intrusion into our lives.[1]

Similarly, in January, 1979 the industry was covertly battling citizen-led efforts to pass a smoke-free ordinance in Dade County, Florida (Miami). The industry conducted a poll that same month that showed Dade County voters supported the smoke-free measure by a wide margin -- 65 percent to 35 percent, with five percent undecided. To counter the powerful public sentiment in favor of the measure, Ernest Pepples, Vice President and General Counsel for the Brown & Williamson tobacco company, wrote a memo that said, "The ... poll also shows that the people will vote against additional intrusion by government if an intelligent effort is made to inform them. A campaign is underway to do just that. The attack theme will be 'Too Much Government' and will stress unnecessary tax costs and costs to businesses required to comply with the proposed ordinance." After the industry deployed the "too much big government" theme, Dade County voters narrowly defeated the ordinance, by a measure of 49.8 percent for, 50.2 percent against. After the election, the tobacco industry concluded that the "government intrusion" theme had been highly effective, working far better to persuade voters than did other themes, like "free choice," "right to smoke" or civil liberties.[2]

The tobacco industry continued to apply the anti-government theme in subsequent decades, to manipulate the public to act in the industry's favor.

In 1993, after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rated environmental tobacco smoke (ETS, or secondhand smoke) a Group A Human Carcinogen -- the same rating the agency assigns to substances like asbestos, radon gas and vinyl chloride -- Phiip Morris' sought assistance from its long-time public relations firm, Leo Burnett, which developed Project Brass, a plan of action to fight the growing secondhand smoke issue nationally. As part of the plan, Burnett proposed the anti-government strategy, instructing the industry to "Raise Flag of Government Intervention" to  "Attempt to shift focus from EPA ETS report to one of the government interfering again."[3][4]

Related Sourcewatch resources


  1. Tobacco Institute T.I. Presentation, Presentation/speech, December 14, 1978, 17 pages, Bates No.TIFL0068214/8230
  2. Michael Given, Stanton Glantz Tobacco Industry Political Power and Influence in Florida From 1979 to 1999, From the series, Tobacco Control Policy Making: United States, May 1, 1999, 87 pages at page 13-14
  3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EPA Designates Passive Smoking a "Class A" or Known Human Carcinogen Press release. January 7, 1993
  4. Leo Burnett Worldwide, "Project Brass: A Plan of Action for the ETS Issue", March 23, 1993. (On page 25 the Burnett strategy noted "Raise Flag of Government Intervention: Attempts to shift focus from EPA ETS report to one of the government interfering again").