Competitive Enterprise Institute

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Founded in 1984, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) describes itself as providing a “full-service approach to advancing public policy” by publishing research, campaigning, and lobbying. It is focussed on advocating for “freedom on a range of regulatory policy issues”.1

Relationship with the tobacco industry

Based in Washington D.C., the Institute has lobbied on conventional tobacco and newer nicotine and tobacco products for decades. Truth Tobacco Industry Documents show that the Competitive Enterprise Institute has received funding from the tobacco industry since the early 1990s.2 The records include several  letters, reports and documents referring to the relationship between the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the tobacco industry. 3, 4 5 Examples of this relationship include sustained funding from Philip Morris International starting in 1993 3, (now part of the British American Tobacco), from 1994 for at least 16 years,  6 and from the defunct Tobacco Institute 7

The CEI does not disclose its donors but Altria lists the Institute as a recipient of charitable donations in 2015, 2019 and 2020 89 10

In 2019, the New York Times obtained a copy of programme for a gala event organised by the CEI which listed numerous corporate donors.1112 Among the Gold Sponsors were JUUL Labs (in which Altria bought a 35% share in 2018); while Altria and Philip Morris International were silver sponsors. Amazon said that its gold sponsorship cost $15,000.

CEI´s Staff

Fred L Smith is the founder of the CEI and director of its Center for Advancing Capitalism

Kent Lassman is President and CEO having previously been a business lobbyist. He has previously worked for think tanks including FreedomWorks, Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Progress & Freedom Foundation13

Myron Ebell is the Director of its Center for Energy and Environment

Jessica Melugin is the Director for its Center for Technology and Innovation

Iain Murray is the Vice President for Strategy and a Senior Fellow

Ivan Osorio is Editorial Director

Kyle Hanlin is Director of Philanthropy14

A full list of CEI staff can be found on the CEI website.

There are a more than five senior fellows including Michelle Minton who is the CEI’s most regular writer on tobacco and e-cigarette issues. 1516 interviews and press releases,1718

E-cigarette Lobbying

In 2011, CEI took the US Department of Transportation to court to argue that e-cigarettes should not be covered by bans on smoking in airplanes.19 They were joined in that lawsuit by the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association (a not-for-profit consumer organisation promoting e-cigarettes) and Gordon Cummings, the CEI’s former director of external affairs. The case was lost.

The Institute has continued to support e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, including IQOS, for example through editorials,151620 interviews and press releases,2122 and in lobbying the Food and Drug Administration to allow fruit flavoured tobacco products.23

In a 2019 report, CEI argued there was a need to “protect consumers” by amending the US Tobacco Control Act to “create an easier path to approval for tobacco products that are demonstrably less harmful or that can be reasonably assumed to have a net positive effect on public health” and allow advertising of what they term “non-combustible nicotine” products and “tobacco alternatives”.24 In the same year, the Institute told the Guardian that: “In all cases, CEI’s stance is that adults should be free to make their own decisions about what risks they are willing to take, including those related to nicotine use.”25

Evidence from Truth Tobacco Industry Documents suggests that the CEI was involved in previous lobbying on behalf of the tobacco industry interests, particularly around the reform of the FDA in the 1990s and in several discussions on regulations at the agency.6 Examples of CEI collaborations with PMI around regulations, are described in an August 1994 report on PMI activities: “ The CEI presented their experience in criticizing various aspects of FDA regulation (…) and expressed an interest in expanding their FDA projects”.26 CEI also published news articles in the 90´s criticizing tobacco control regulations as bans to indoor smoking and regulations to create smoke-free environments.27

Several articles were also published in CEI´s website advocating for looser regulation for conventional and newer products and criticising tobacco control groups for their initiatives.282930

Criticised WHO

In September 2018, CEI Senior Fellow Michelle Minton was co-signatory to a letter to the then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the head of the Department of Health and Human Services Alex Azar ahead of the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) meeting COP8.

The letter urged the American delegation to lobby the WHO to engage with all “relevant stakeholders, without discrimination” to work on tobacco harm reduction.31 This would undermine article 5.3 of the convention which requires non-engagement with the tobacco industry. The letter also criticised what it saw as a lack of transparency at COP7 meetings and claimed that WHO had been hostile to the press. The letter was co-signed by representatives from the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, National Taxpayers Union, Independent Women’s Forum, Centre for Freedom and Prosperity, FreedomWorks Foundation, 60 Plus Association and American Conservative Union.31

For more information on these organizations collaborating with the tobacco industry, go to Think Tanks.

TobaccoTactics Resources

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  1. Competitive Enterprise Institute, About, undated, accessed July 2019
  2. Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Letter from CEI to Philip Morris International, 1993, accessed June 2021, Bates number: 2046558335-2046558338
  3. abThe Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Competitive Enterprise Institute funding from PMI, 1994, accessed July 2021, Bates number: 2046558088-2046558099
  4. Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, COMPETITIVE ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE Fred L. Smith, Jr. President, 1997, accessed July 2021, Bates number: TI15330988
  5. Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, PMI and CEI activities in August 1994, 1994, accessed July 2021, Bates number: 2046044323
  6. abThe Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, CEI and RJ Reynolds correspondence, 2000, accessed June 2021 Bates number: 525291068-525291069
  7. Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Payment from the Tobacco Institute to CEI, 1997, accessed July 2021, Bates number: TI15330986
  8. Altria, 2015 List of charitable donations , website, undated, accessed June 2021
  9. Altria, 2019 Recipients of Charitable Contributions from Altria Family of Companies, website, 2019, accessed June 2021
  10. Altria, 2020 Recipients of Charitable Contributions from the Altria Family of Companies, website, 2020, accessed June 2021
  11. T. Root, L. Friedman and H. Tabuchi, Following the money that undermines climate science, New York Times, 10 July 2019, accessed July 2019
  12. CEI 35th Anniversary Dinner and Reception, Programme, undated, accessed July 2019
  13. Competitive Enterprise Institute, Kent Lassman, 2016, accessed July 2021
  14. Staff, CEI website, undated, accessed June 2021
  15. abM. Minton, Fears Aren’t Facts: E-Cigarettes, CEI Website, 29 June 2017, accessed July 2019
  16. abM. Minton, Anti-E-Cigarette Puritans Put Lives at Risk, 6 March 2019, accessed July 2019
  17. M. Fox, Cigarette Company Philip Morris Tries to Sell Idea of ‘Safer’ Tobacco, NBC, 24 January 2018, accessed July 2019
  18. LinkedIn Michelle Minton, undated, accessed July 2019
  19. United States Courts of Appeals, Judgement, 21 July 2017, accessed July 2019
  20. M. Fox, Cigarette Company Philip Morris Tries to Sell Idea of ‘Safer’ Tobacco, NBC, 24 January 2018, accessed July 2019
  21. Competitive Enterprise Institute, Cigarette Company Philip Morris Tries to Sell Idea of ‘Safer’ Tobacco, CEI press release, 30 April 2019, accessed July 2019
  22. Competitive Enterprise Institute, CEI Praises FDA for Approving Lower Risk Cigarette Alternative, CEI press release, 30 April 2019, accessed July 2019
  23. M. Minton, CEI comments on the regulation of flavours in tobacco products, 16 July 2018, accessed 2019
  24. Competitive Enterprise Institute, Free to Prosper, CEI Report, 2018-9, accessed July 2019
  25. J. Glenza, S. Kelly and J. Adolphe, Free-market groups and the tobacco industry The Guardian, 23 January 2019, accessed July 2019
  26. Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, PMI activity report, 1994, accessed July 2021, Bates number: 2046044323
  27. Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, SAFETY IS A RELATIVE THING FOR CARS, WHY NOT FOR CIGARETTES?, 1994, accessed July 2021, Bates number: 2046558266
  28. Competitive Enterprise Institute, FDA Tobacco Regulation vs. Harm Reduction, 2007, accessed July 2021
  29. Competitive Enterprise Institute, Biden Should Choose Science over Politics and Embrace Tobacco Harm Reduction, 2021, accessed July 2021
  30. Competitive Enterprise Institute, Exposed: Bloomberg’s Anti-Tobacco Meddling in Developing Countries, 2021, accessed July 2021
  31. abCompetitive Enterprise Institute, CEI Joins Coalition Letter Urging Science Based Solutions in WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, 2018, accessed July 2021