Is the Tobacco Industry Pro-life? Let's Ask Bart Stupak and Friends!
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Dec 07, 2009 at 07:27:06 PM EST
In the last installment of this mini-series, I examined some of the deadly effects tobacco has on human health -- including fetuses. In part two, I will focus on some prominent Catholics politicians who have not only opposed reproductive freedom under the rubric of being "pro-life," but have also turned a blind eye to the addiction and medical ravages of tobacco while accepting campaign contributions from tobacco interests.
The Catholic hierarchy long ago made a decision to wage war on a series of issues that they consider to be part of a culture of death. These include opposing both abortion and embryonic stem cell research. And increasingly they have become more militant in their approach, resorting to heavy-handed measures to make the orthodox Catholic position the law for all - even though other faiths have differing positions on both issues. The denial of Sacraments has been put into play by reactionaries such as Archbishop Raymond Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signature and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver.

And yet as a Catholic I cannot think of one elected official who has been threatened with loss of the sacraments for taking tobacco money.

Take for example former U.S. Senator and current Fox News analyst, Rick Santorum.

As an Opus Dei cooperator Santorum has been a vocal proponent of applying his traditionalist Catholic values to public policy. In the Senate and now on television he inveighs against marriage equality, embryonic stem cell research reproductive rights. He clearly sees himself as the antithesis of liberals who are often derided as being part of "a culture of death."

But Santorum is far from being consistent on the issue of life. Like many other Catholic Right politicians, his concern for the sanctity of life ends when the child leaves the womb.

Besides being a vocal supporter of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq (opposed by then-Pope John Paul II) Santorum took a lot of tobacco industry contributions. In the 2005-06 cycle alone he accepted $22,000 in tobacco political action committee money while over his career in Congress he totaled over $37,000 in campaign contributions.

And the tobacco industry's investment in Santorum paid off handsomely for them. As The American Prospect  reported in its February 20, 2006 edition:

Among the Santorum fund's leading donors are political action committees for R.J. Reynolds, Altria, and U.S. Tobacco Corporation. On November 2, 2004, the date that the GOP maintained control of the Congress and the White House, four U.S. tobacco executives gave $10,000 to America's Foundation [America's Foundation is Santorum's political action committee] -- in addition to $6,000 in donations from the firm's PAC that same year. Earlier in October 2004, Santorum had been a key vote in a House-Senate conference committee that killed a provision allowing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the tobacco industry.

Another prominent Catholic pro-lifer who accepts tobacco campaign contributions is Senator David Vitter (R-LA), he of a recent scandal involving a Washington, D.C. prostitution ring.

The Louisiana Senator has long championed the cultural causes of the Catholic Right including abortion, marriage equality and health care.

He has also taken $4,500 (so far) in tobacco contributions in the 2010 election cycle. But that's just for starters. In the 2003 - 2004 cycle alone then-Representative Vitter accepted $25,500 from tobacco industry political action committees.

And then there is Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), the USCCB's favorite Democrat.

Rep. Stupak constantly brandishes his pro-life credentials. During the eight years of George W. Bush's presidency he teamed up with Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL) to thwart the federal funding and oversight of embryonic stem cell research. Most recently he threatened to sabotage health care reform unless he got his way on severely restricting abortion coverage in the House version of the legislation.

But Rep. Stupak too has a dirty little secret: He takes tobacco money.

According to Open during the 2007-2008 election cycle, the Michigan Congressman received $2,000 from US Smokeless Tobacco and $1,000 from Swedish Match North America.

The $2,000 from US Smokeless Tobacco is particularly troubling. As The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids further reports:

The U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company (UST) is the biggest smokeless tobacco company in the U.S. and controls two-thirds of the moist snuff tobacco market (with leading premium brands Skoal and Copenhagen)....

According to internal company documents, UST developed a strategy for hooking new spit-tobacco users, meaning kids, some time ago.  As one document states:

New users of smokeless tobacco -- attracted to the product for a variety of reasons -- are most likely to begin with products that are milder tasting, more flavored, and/or easier to control in the mouth.  After a period of time, there is a natural progression of product switching to brands that are more full-bodied, less flavored, have more concentrated 'tobacco taste' than the entry brand.

Following this strategy, between 1983 to 1984, UST introduced Skoal Bandits and Skoal Long Cut, designed to "graduate" new users from beginner strength to stronger, more potent products.  A 1985 internal UST newsletter indicates the company's desire to appeal to youth:  "Skoal Bandits is the introductory product, and then we look towards establishing a normal graduation process."  In 1993, cherry flavoring was added to UST's Skoal Long Cut, another starter product.  A former UST sales representative revealed that "Cherry Skoal is for somebody who likes the taste of candy, if you know what I'm saying."  According to UST's 2005 Annual Report, flavored products (that now include flavors such as apple, peach, vanilla, berry blend, and citrus blend) account for more than 11 percent of all moist snuff sales.  UST launched "new and improved" Skoal Bandits in August 2006.

The failure to speak out against the tobacco industry is a contradiction that needs to be explained; not just by Rep. Stupak, but by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops more militant members.  Let me recap from last week:

According to the The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids:

Deaths & Disease in the USA from Tobacco Use:

*People who die each year from their own cigarette smoking:  approx. 400,000

*Adult nonsmokers who die each year from exposure to secondhand smoke: approx. 50,000

  • Kids under 18 alive today who will ultimately die from smoking (unless smoking rates decline):  6,000,000+

  • People in the USA who currently suffer from smoking-caused illness:  8.6 million

The Harm to Fetuses

According to The March of Dimes, both first-hand and second-hand tobacco smoke is hazardous to any fetus:

Statistics from the United States are compelling. According to the U.S. Public Health Service, if all pregnant women in this country stopped smoking, there would be an estimated:

11 percent reduction in stillbirths

Archbishops Burke and Chaput, as well as others in the hierarchy, have made the relatively small amounts of money that might go to subsidizing insurance policies that includes abortion coverage -- coverage that most women will never actually use -- a deal-breaker on pending health care legislation.  Relatively small amounts of taxpayer funds touching on abortion is their sole reason for threatening to kill health care reform, with all that it means for saving people's lives or abandoning them to medical ruin -- but nothing is said about these politicians' hypocritical relationship to tobacco money.

But as I observed above, I cannot think of one elected official has been threatened with loss of the sacraments for taking tobacco money.

The Catholic Right wants to dictate the consciences, via the law and the coercive power of the state, of all individuals on matters of abortion, stem cell research and marriage equality. And yet will not stand up to a global industry bent on addicting children and adults to products that will kill or damage, and cause extraordinary suffering to large percentages of those who use the product.  The silence of the likes of Rep. Stupak apparently comes cheap.

While a few bishops do speak out against tobacco use, it is simply not a priority. To hold up health care reform over reproductive rights while looking the other way on smoking is simply hypercritical.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Dec 07, 2009 at 07:31:26 PM EST

Their concern for life ends at birth. After that, the parents are on their own.

by khughes1963 on Mon Dec 07, 2009 at 08:33:09 PM EST

Their concern with life ends with the sexual component and then mysteriously returns at the end of life. My question would be how much money is being donated to dioceses not just from the tobacco industry families, but from families involved in alcohol production. And one should never ignore the fact that alcohol and tobacco health issues are part of the bread a butter of the medical industry. Perhaps that is why the bishops are also very 'concerned' about end of life issues. Don't they have a vested interest in the third largest medical delivery system in the US?

by colkoch on Tue Dec 08, 2009 at 11:03:42 AM EST
A question well worth asking.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Dec 08, 2009 at 03:22:40 PM EST

He too is another anti-choice pol who takes tobacco industry contributions.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Dec 08, 2009 at 06:49:08 PM EST

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