In the world of politics and issues advocacy the phrase “astroturf” refers to top-down efforts designed to look like they came from the bottom up– from countless ordinary folks each doing their own small part. In other words, astroturf campaigns are made to appear at a quick glance to be “grassroots”, but a deeper look reveals their fundamental artificiality, hence the wordplay.
But we may have to invent a new word to describe the anti-vaping “movement,” since nearly the entire thing is funded by just two multi-billionaires and one major foundation that happens to have a stake in a smoking cessation product.
That’s the shocking revelation my organization – the American Vapor Manufacturers – uncovered when we dug into the financial records of major anti-vaping advocacy groups and the wealthy foundations who back them.
We discovered that over the past five years, tens of millions of dollars were bankrolling shoddy academic research along with an archipelago of NGOs, lobbyists, PR shops, lawyers, front groups, and even media outlets to do the bidding of imperious, unaccountable billionaires.
It won’t come as a shock to those familiar with our issues to learn that former New York City mayor and tech/finance kingpin Michael Bloomberg sits atop of this massive funding network. But the other two major organizations driving significant dollars might be a little more surprising: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).
Gates Foundation money, to the tune of more than $7 million a year, is funneled through Bloomberg Philanthropies to back major players in the anti-vaping world like Vital Strategies, the World Health Organization, and the CDC Foundation.
Meanwhile, RWJF actually founded the anti-vaping crusaders Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) in 1995, and the group still sits at the center of the vast web of funding. In the past 5 years, CTFK received over $60.5 million from Bloomberg, $12 million from Gates, and $11 million from RWJF.
You’ll also find significant donations from Bloomberg, Vital Strategies, and Gates to international public health groups like the World Health Organization, World Bank, and Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance. The International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organizations (INNCO) recently released a fantastic report about how Bloomberg, CTFK, and others are attempting to influence vaping policy on a global scale.
The tangled web of money flowing among these organizations to various initiatives and causes would test the sleuthing skills of even the best detectives. For example, we found that Gates gives money to Bloomberg, which also gives money to Vital Strategies; meanwhile, Vital Strategies also gives money to CTFK. RWJF gives money to both CTFK and the American Cancer Society while ACS also gives money to CTFK. We even found that CTFK gives grants to American Heart Association while the American Heart Association also gives grants to CTFK.
The big three also fund auxiliary groups that provide services and act as vendors to the big players. For instance, RWJF funds an organization called the Public Health Law Center (PHLC), which provides “legal assistance” to organizations in the anti-vaping movement in developing policies to regulate and ban vaping across the country. PHLC also puts out a “Policy Playbook,” which “illustrate[s] the ways in which communities can overcome obstacles and secure public support for their policies and the tactics they use in enforcing them.”
Perhaps most dubiously, RWJF has a close affiliation with and is heavily invested in Johnson & Johnson, the company that makes Nicorette and other smoking cessation products. At the same time, RWJF funds full-on assaults on vaping at CTFK and research at universities like Johns Hopkins to help identify “priority areas for e-cigarette research to ensure that regulations and public policies advance health equity.”
One would think that a story involving this much incestuous influence from unaccountable and conflicted billionaires would make headlines, but the mainstream media doesn’t seem to care.
That’s why it falls to organizations like ours–comprised of real grassroots small business owners–to continue to expose hidden agendas in our ongoing fight to protect our customers rights. We encourage you to read our full report here.