Mobilizing Public Opinion for the Tobacco Industry: The Consumer Tax Alliance and Excise Taxes (2009)

Authors: Richard Campbell and Edith Balbach


Background: Tobacco industry funding was instrumental in creating and financing the Consumer Tax Alliance in 1989 as an ostensibly organization that relied upon extensive media outreach to build opposition to excise taxes as a regressive form of taxation. By obscuring its own role in this effort, the tobacco industry undermined the public’s reasonable expectations for transparency in the policy making process.

Aim: To examine the formation and activities of the Consumer Tax Alliance as a “hybrid” form of interest group in order to provide tobacco control and public health advocates with a better understanding of unanticipated tobacco industry coalitions and facilitate appropriate counter measures.

Methods: Document searches through the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library and through Tobacco Documents Online and review of background literature.

Results: The Tobacco Institute actively sought liberal allies beginning in the mid-1980s in seeking to build public opposition to cigarette excise tax increases by promoting them as a regressive form of taxation. The creation of the Consumer Tax Alliance in 1989 was expressly intended to turn labor and middle class opinion against prospective excise tax increases in federal budget deficit negotiations, without divulging the tobacco industry’s role in its formation.

Conclusion: It is important to understand the dynamic by which trusted organizations can be induced to alter their agendas in response to funding sources. Advocates need to understand this form of interest group behavior so that they are better able to negotiate the policy arena by diagnosing and exposing this influence where it occurs and, by doing so, be better prepared to take appropriate counter measures.

What this paper adds: The tobacco industry’s political strategies for utilizing third party efforts to contest cigarette excise tax increases have not been extensively studied. While there has been some attention to industry sponsorship of third parties, the Consumer Tax Alliance represented a “hybrid” form of interest group alliance. Created in the 1990s with tobacco industry funding, the Consumer Tax Alliance included legitimate public interest groups as sponsors, but who did not appear to be actively involved in its operations. The formation and activities of the Consumer Tax Alliance provide an instructive lens for introducing a novel form of third party activity to the tobacco industry’s policy efforts.

Read more: Tobacco Control