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

E-cigarette Lobbying

Based in Washington D.C. the Institute has lobbied on tobacco and vaping issues since 2011. That year it took the US Department of Transportation to court to argue that e-cigarettes should not be covered by bans on smoking in airplanes.2 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,34 interviews and press releases,567 and in lobbying the Food and Drug Administration to allow fruit flavoured tobacco products.8
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”.9 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.”10

Criticising WHO

In September 2018, CEI Senior Fellow Michelle Minton was co-signatory to a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the head of the Department of Health and Human Services Alex Azar ahead of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control 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.11 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.11


The Institute does not disclose its donors but Altria lists the Institute as a recipient of charitable donations in 2015 and 2012.1213
In 2019, the New York Times obtained a copy of programme for a gala event organised by the CEI which listed numerous corporate donors.14 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 $15,000.15


  • Fred L Smith is listed as the founder of the CEI and also 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 Foundation
  • Myron Ebell is the Director of its Center for Energy and Environment
  • Jessica Melugin is the Associate 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
  • Andy Thompson is Director of Philanthopy16

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.34 Her LinkedIn profile records that she has worked for the Institute since 2007 immediately after graduating from John Hopkins University with a Bachelor in Arts. In 2019 she gained a Masters in Nutrition Sciences.17

TobaccoTactics Resources


  1. Competitive Enterprise Institute, About, undated, accessed July 2019
  2. United States Courts of Appeals, Judgement, 21 July 2017, accessed July 2019
  3. abM. Minton, Fears Aren’t Facts: E-Cigarettes, CEI Website, 29 June 2017, accessed July 2019
  4. abM. Minton, Anti-E-Cigarette Puritans Put Lives at Risk, 6 March 2019, accessed July 2019
  5. M. Fox, Cigarette Company Philip Morris Tries to Sell Idea of ‘Safer’ Tobacco, NBC, 24 January 2018, accessed July 2019
  6. Competitive Enterprise Institute, Cigarette Company Philip Morris Tries to Sell Idea of ‘Safer’ Tobacco, CEI press release, 30 April 2019, accessed July 2019
  7. Competitive Enterprise Institute, CEI Praises FDA for Approving Lower Risk Cigarette Alternative, CEI press release, 30 April 2019, accessed July 2019
  8. M. Minton, CEI comments on the regulation of flavours in tobacco products, 16 July 2018, accessed 2019
  9. Competitive Enterprise Institute, Free to Prosper, CEI Report, 2018-9, accessed July 2019
  10. J. Glenza, S. Kelly and J. Adolphe, Free-market groups and the tobacco industry The Guardian, 23 January 2019, accessed July 2019
  11. abCEI Letter CEI Joins Coalition Letter Urging Science Based Solutions in WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, 26 September 2018, accessed July 2019
  12. Altria, 2015 list, undated, accessed July 2019
  13. Altria, 2012 List, undated, accessed July 2019
  14. CEI 35th Anniversary Dinner and Reception, Programme, undated, accessed July 2019
  15. T. Root, L. Friedman and H. Tabuchi, Following the money that undermines climate science, New York Times, 10 July 2019, accessed July 2019
  16. Staff, CEI website, undated, accessed July 2019
  17. LinkedIn Michelle Minton, undated, accessed July 2019