“Bowing to a forceful majority of opinion, the [Westminster, Mass.] Board of Health has killed its proposed ban on tobacco sales.” [Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise, AP (“This is a free country?” sign), Chris Snowdon (“The anti-smokers of Westminster… had to demand prohibition before the townspeople finally realized that they were dealing with prohibitionists”), earlier]
“They’re just taking away everyday freedoms, little by little,” said Nate Johnson, 32, an egg farmer who also works in an auto body shop, as he stood outside the store last week. “This isn’t about tobacco, it’s about control,” he said.
Right he is. And despite the Times reporter’s lifted eyebrow at the notion that “outside groups” are encouraging town officials to go forward with the ban, it’s worth asking how Westminster, Mass., population 7,400, came to have its very own “tobacco control officer.” Do you imagine the townspeople decided to create such a position with local tax funds? If so, read on.
For well over a decade the Massachusetts Municipal Association has run something called the Tobacco Control Technical Assistance Program, assisted by grant money from the state Department of Public Health. It does things like campaign for town-by-town hikes in the tobacco purchase age to 21, and town-by-town bans on tobacco sales in drug stores. It will surprise few that it has been in the thick of the Westminster situation.
This article, written for a friendly audience of public health advocates, frankly describes how the MMA project, with assistance from nonprofit and university groups as well as the state of Massachusetts, worked to break down the reluctance of town health boards to venture into restrictions on tobacco sales (scroll to “Roles of the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program, Local Boards of Health, and Tobacco Control Advocates”);
Local boards were enticed into hiring tobacco control staff by the DPH’s tobacco control grants. As a participant in the process explained, “[L]ocal boards of health looked at it as ‘oh, it’s a grant. Let’s apply for this grant. So now, what do we have to do, now that we’ve got it?’” … The grants dictated that local boards use those community members they had hired as their staff to assist them in enacting and enforcing tobacco control regulations…
The staff paid for with money from outside the town seem to have seen their job as, in part, lobbying the local officials: “We’ve had to work on each individual board [of health] member to get them to come around,” said one.
The account continues with many revealing details of how the outside advisers managed to orchestrate public hearings to minimize critics’ voice, deflect challenges with “we’ll take that under advisement” rather than actual answers, and in the case of particularly intense opposition, “back off for a couple of months” before returning. “Grant-funded regulatory advocates were able to counter all of [opponents’] arguments and tactics.”
In other words, an extra reason for the townspeople of Westminster to be angry is that they have been paying to lobby themselves. And it’s worth knowing exactly how the game plan works, because similar ones have been rolled out to localities in various states not only on “tobacco control” but on “food policy,” environmental bans and other topics. Grass roots? If so, most carefully cultivated in high places.
Update Nov. 21: board drops plan in face of overwhelming public opposition.
Details, always those pesky details: “A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of 750 tobacco suits, citing this major problem: The Florida law firm that brought the cases had mistakenly identified 588 dead smokers as still being alive.” [ABA Journal]
“If we don’t get a dime, that’s OK, if we can make a difference and save some lives,” said longtime Overlawyered favorite Willie Gary, one of the lawyers representing a woman awarded $23 billion-with-a-b in punitive damages by a Florida jury for the lung cancer death of her husband, a longtime smoker. [USA Today] I’ve covered earlier stages in the long-running Florida Engle tobacco litigation, which included a $145 billion punitive damage verdict later thrown out, in articles here, here, and here, as well as Overlawyered coverage; more on Willie Gary.
More: Jacob Sullum on the illogical basis of the jury’s decision.
- New Hampshire lottery: after Granite State’s MTBE contamination suits pays off big, Vermont files its own [WLF Legal Pulse]
- Supreme Court declines to review various cases arising from Florida’s Engle tobacco litigation [Lyle Denniston, SCOTUSBlog, earlier] “U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Fen-Phen Lawyers’ Appeal of $42M Kentucky Verdict” [Insurance Journal, earlier]
- In action against five drug firms over opioid marketing, California’s Santa Clara County partners with law firms Robinson Calcagnie, Cohen Milstein, and Hagens Berman, marking at least the tenth time the county has teamed up with outside law firms to file suits [Legal NewsLine; earlier on Chicago’s involvement in painkiller suit]
- Lester Brickman on fraud in mesothelioma litigation [SSRN] “Plaintiff Lawyer Offers Inside Look At `Institutionalized Fraud’ At Asbestos Trusts” [Daniel Fisher]
- “‘Light’ cigarette case vs Huck’s continues after 9 years; Two current judges had been plaintiff’s counsel” [Madison Record, ABA Journal]
- “If honesty in the judicial system means anything, it means proceeding with candor before the tribunal, which plaintiffs’ counsel did not do during the removal proceedings.” [dissent in Peter Angelos Cashmere Bouquet asbestos case, Legal NewsLine]
- Report on products liability and the driverless car [John Villasenor, Brookings, earlier]
- Congress responds to Veterans Administration health care scandal by throwing huge new sums at care [Nicole Kaeding, Chris Edwards, Cato] “Every Senior V.A. Executive Was Rated ‘Fully Successful’ or Better Over 4 Years.” [NYT via Instapundit] “VA Hospitals aren’t included on the federal government’s Hospital Compare web site” [White Coat]
- Canadian judge quashes as vexatious suit over non-admission to medical school [Winnipeg Free Press]
- Brain-damaged child cases: “14.5 Million Reasons Physicians Practice Defensive Medicine” [White Coat, Cleveland] “North Carolina Jury Deadlocks in John Edwards’ Malpractice Trial Against Doctor” [Insurance Journal, emergency medicine]
- “Medical Licensing in the States: Some Room for Agreement — and Reform” [Charles Hughes, Cato]
- “NY Launches Statewide Med Mal Settlement Program” [NYDN via TortsProf]
- “Unlucky Strike: Private Health and the Science, Law and Politics of Smoking” [John Steddon and David Boaz, Cato program] Here’s the long-awaited segue to complete prohibition: British Medical Association recommends banning tobacco permanently for persons born after 2000 [WaPo]
- Sneaky: California ballot language undoing MICRA liability limits “buried in an initiative titled The Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act of 2014.” [Yul Ejnes, KevinMD]
- “Go to Heaven, Bloomberg: The meddling ex-mayor thinks he is on a mission from God.” [Sullum] “De Blasio to resurrect attempt at NYC big soda ban” [Eric Boehm, Watchdog.org]
- The CDC connection: much of Bloomberg’s crew of public health officials has moved into the Obama administration, and has big plans [Jeff Stier]
- “The public health approach rejects the idea that there is such a thing as unfettered free will” — here’s Bloomberg paternalism boiled down nicely for you [Larry Gostin, Hastings Center Report via Scott Burris, Bill of Health (regretting “mass delusion of autonomy”)]
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC): if skeptical media call, tell ‘em you’re not around [Zenon Evans]
- For her own good: “89-Year-Old Kicked Out of HUD Housing for Smoking Cigarettes” [Elizabeth N. Brown]
- “Longer Pub Hours, Fewer Car Accidents in England and Wales” [James Schneider, Econlib]
- Sally Satel on the benefits of e-cigarettes [AEI Ideas video] “The FDA Says E-Cigarettes Are Less Harmful Than Smoking” [Jason Koebler, Vice Motherboard]
Jacob Grier has an analysis, and predicts a regulatory snarl for e-cigarettes based on a poorly written statute, cartel profits for major cigarette makers, bad news for cigar and pipe smokers, and wider black markets.