A New Generation of Addicts: Trump Takes Tobacco Money, Becomes Friend to Vaping Industry


But never mind love. Does Donald Trump even care about your kids?

I grew up in the fifties. My father smoked Lucky Strikes. My older brother smoked Camels. I started smoking their cigarettes when I was thirteen years old. Some years later, I don’t recall exactly when, smoking was irritating my throat. I switched to Kools for that “clean Kool taste.”1933, Brown & Williamson began selling menhol cigarettes with the brand name “Kool”. An anthropomorphic cartoon penguin was an ideal mascot to call attention to the “cooling” sensation of Kool menthol cigarettes. Willie was used to advertise Kool from 1934 until 1960.

Willie the Penguin, saying Kools could cure a smoker's cough, helped an earlier generation of kids get addicted to nicotine.
Willie the Penguin, saying Kools could cure a smoker’s cough, helped an earlier generation of kids get addicted to nicotine.

I’ve always liked cartoons. Maybe it was Willie the Penguin that hooked me. Often I see TV hosts ask panelists who are historians, “Has there ever been a time like this?” The question is asked in the context of Trump doing whatever that day’s evil thing happens to be.

One of these lesser known things has to do with Big Tobacco, Donald Trump, and our kids.

A quick history is worth knowing, especially as Trump is posing yet another serious threat to the health of our kids, a threat that’s been a little bit under the radar. So bear with me. The history is interesting in itself, and it ties into Trump’s ghoulish efforts to make money from his presidency—no matter how much damage he does or how many lives he destroys.

What follows is strictly factual. Much of it from scientific journals, the American Lung Association, court and tobacco company documents, and other reputable sources. I doubt that even the most fervent Trump supporters would dispute what follows. No matter who you support for president or any other office, none of us can put our heads in the sand, not when it comes to our kids.

In 1954, a British medical journal published a report on the health risks of smoking. But who was reading British medical journals? The tobacco companies, of course. They stepped up their propagandasorry, advertisingcampaigns.[1]

One of the reassuring maternal figures Big Tobacco enlisted to assure you their product wouldn't kill you.
One of the reassuring maternal figures Big Tobacco enlisted to assure you their product wouldn’t kill you.
Arthur Godrey, a celebrity face for 'scientific' lies about tobacco's dangers.
Arthur Godrey, a celebrity face for ‘scientific’ lies about tobacco’s dangers.

For years, cheerful moms, celebrities, and sober-looking male models in white coats posing as doctors all assured us that you could smoke those cigarettes to your heart’s content, maybe even achieve a state of euphoria and wisdom. Just like them.

 Ten years later, in 1964, the first Surgeon General’s report warned of the link between smoking and lung cancer. Two years later, Congress passed a law that required health warnings on cigarette packs: “Caution—cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health.”

The tobacco companies were undeterred. Much like Jeffrey Epstein, they stepped up their assaults on young women and girls.

But they really went after kids.

In 1991, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study showing that by the time they were six-years old, nearly as many kids associated “Joe Camel” with cigarettes as associated the Disney logo with Mickey Mouse. Joe Camel was cool. Is that evil enough for you?

Young women and teenage girls were an especially profitable marketing target.
Young women and teenage girls were an especially profitable marketing target.
The white coat implied medical sanction for smoking.
The white coat implied medical sanction for smoking.

About one-third of all cigarettes sold illegally to underage buyers were Camels, up from less than one percent before Joe. The AMA asked R. J. Reynolds to pull the campaign. Reynolds refused. Kids? Nah, we’re only targeting 25-to-49-year-old men who smoke Marlboro.

They were lying, of course. In 1991, Janet Mangini, a San Francisco-based attorney, sued RJR for targeting minors with its Joe Camel campaign. Teenage smokers, she pointed out, accounted for almost half a billion dollars of Camel sales in 1992. In 1988, pre-Joe Camel, that market share was only $6 million.

R. J. Reynolds wasn’t giving up on the teenage market. With more than a touch of irony, it launched a “Let’s Clear the Air on Smoking” campaign. These were full-page magazine ads that denied the connection with kids. They piously insisted that smoking is “an adult custom.” In other words, the ads argued, the government is trying to mess with your freedom. Those meddling bureaucrats are trying to stand between you and your freedom to get lung cancer as an adult.

The 'Joe Camel' ad campaign successfully used a cartoon character to attract children to cigarettes.
The ‘Joe Camel’ ad campaign successfully used a cartoon character to attract children to cigarettes.
Tobacco executives knew they were lying when they swore that nicotine wasn't addictive.
Tobacco executives knew they were lying when they swore that nicotine wasn’t addictive. Big Tobacco’s assault on medical science provided a playbook for the fossil fuel industry’s later assault on climate science.


As for the Marlboro defense, Mangini’s lawsuit uncovered incriminating corporate documents. A 1974 RJR research report concluded that capturing the “young adult” market is vital because “most smokers begin smoking regularly and select a usual brand at or before the age of 18.”

There was also an internal company presentation in which an RJR vice-president of marketing explained that the “young adult market . . . represent[s] tomorrow’s cigarette business. As this 14-24 age group matures, they will account for a key share of the total cigarette volumefor at least the next twenty-five years.”

“Young adult.” Fourteen years old! Nothing personal, kids, just business. And it was true. Corporations are by definition sociopaths. Their sole, legally mandated purpose is to make money for a relatively few people. Shareholder profits and executive compensation packages are tied to stock prices. If for whatever reason these tobacco executives couldn’t deliver, others would take their place.

Too harsh? Truthfully, I never felt this strongly about this issue until very recently, as I began to  read a bit of this history. I even knew a Phillip Morris executive from whom I sought, and insofar as I can recall received, a sizable check for my graduate school. That must have been in the late 1980s. I remember waiting in the company’s outer offices for our meeting to begin. By then the linkages between smoking and heart and lung disease were well established. By then, I had long ago quit smoking. I looked around. People were smoking everywhere; ashtrays sat on every surface.

As with politics, if you do a thing long enough you begin to internalize its values. It’s the process by which one becomes a hack, political or corporate. Everybody around you is doing the same, after all.

Caught red-handed, RJR finally ended its Joe Camel campaign. It paid $10 million to San Francisco and the other California local
governments, which spent most of the settlement proceeds on anti-smoking campaigns aimed at young people. A statistician could figure out how many hundreds of thousands of kids had been hooked in the ten years Joe Camel ads were running. It was a tobacco success story. That $10 million? It wasn’t even a footnote in the corporate budget.

In 1993, the Environmental Protection Agency published a report that concluded that secondhand smoke is responsible for approximately three thousand lung cancer deaths each year in nonsmoking adults. It also impairs the respiratory health of hundreds of thousands of children.

The FDA declared nicotine a drug. President Bill Clinton gave the agency authority to regulate cigarettes as a “drug delivery device.” But in 2000, Big Tobacco won a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling that Congressional approval was required.

In 1998, forty-six states entered into a settlement with the tobacco industry. The industry paid billions of dollars to state governments for tobacco-related public health care costs.

In 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a RICO (civil) lawsuit. RICO (the “R” stands for “racketeer”) is the statute used to combat organized crime. A racketeering suit—against the tobacco industry! The Clinton DOJ said the tobacco industry had engaged in a “coordinated campaign of fraud and deceit.”

But in 2005, George W. Bush’s soon-to-be-disgraced Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez watered down—by billions of dollars—the relief the DOJ had sought in its RICO case. Six major public health groups, including the American Lung Association, objected. But to no avail.


Barack Obama stepped up the federal government’s efforts to rein in Big Tobacco. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched the first federal advertising campaign that encouraged people to quit smoking. “Tips from Former Smokers” featured real people living with diseases caused by smoking.

One of the powerful anti-smoking messages produced during the Obama administration.
One of the powerful anti-smoking messages the CDC produced during the Obama administration.
Pictures are always better than numbers.

Text for the anti-smoking ad at right: “Christine started smoking in high school to fit in, but she never thought she smoked enough to be a ‘real smoker.’ She was diagnosed with oral cancer at 44, and lost her teeth and half of her jaw due to cancer. Christine says if you think this could never happen to you, think again: ‘If you smoke, you’re a smoker.’”

Videos are better still. If you can bear it, take a look at this. It’s short and to the point.

[1] Some of this history is based on a report (Milestones) published by the American Lung Association

The CDC campaign has been enormously successful.
Although he knows a lot about addiction, Rush Limbaugh was either mistaken or lying when he insisted nicotine wasn't addictive.
Although he knows a lot about addiction, Rush Limbaugh was either mistaken or lying when he insisted nicotine wasn’t addictive.

But not with Rush. Apparently, he kicked OxyContin (“hillbilly heroin” in some circles), but he insisted tobacco wasn’t a problem.

April 29, 1994, “The Rush Limbaugh Show”: “There is no conclusive proof that nicotine’s addictive . . . [or about] cigarettes causing emphysema, lung cancer, heart disease.” He repeated that idea as late as 2015.

Now Limbaugh has advanced lung cancer. Believe me, I don’t gloat over the man’s terminal illness. But I do think about all the people who listen and believe the things he says.

More recently, he said this: “Now, I want to tell you the truth about the coronavirus. Yeah, I’m dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks. . . . I’m telling you, the Chicoms [Chinese Communists] are trying to weaponize this thing . . .”

Here’s Mike Pence, now head of Trump’s coronavirus response team, on tobacco and health:

Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class [Note: Pence has been a member of the “political class” for most of his adult life] and the media, smoking doesn’t kill. In fact, two out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and nine out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer. This is not to say that smoking is good for you. . . . News flash: smoking is not good for you.

So Pence says “smoking doesn’t kill” and in the same sentence he says one out of every three smokers dies from a smoking related illness!

Mike Pence may look like your friendly Mr. Rogers character. He may ooze Christian values; he’s so believable to evangelicals. But he is as dangerous to the health of your kids as a two-pack-a-day habit. It should come as no surprise that over the past two election cycles, the tobacco industry has given 85% of its political donations to the Republican Party. Nor will it surprise you that Donald Trump and Mike Pence have been among the industry’s largest recipients.



In 2017, tobacco companies began running “corrective statements” in newspapers and on TV related to their fifty-year campaign of deception and fraud about the dangers of smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke. The statements were originally ordered by a federal judge as part of her 2006 decision in the 1999 Department of Justice lawsuit against the tobacco companies. They had been found guilty of civil racketeering charges.



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