Tobacco Giant Crafts D.C. Council Legislation

11/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Washington Examiner reports Wednesday that lobbyists from the Altria Group, owner of tobacco company Philip Morris, are the principal authors of new D.C. Council legislation that (among other provisions) will give city businesses the right to ban smoking from within 25 feet of a storefront entrance. Councilman Phil Mendelson, who introduced the bill, benefited from a $500 campaign contribution from Altria the day he introduced the legislation.

Such crappy optics! LobbyBlog awards one "Tsk."

There are two bills: One with the 25 feet provision (PDF) and another (PDF) that forbids the sale of single cigars, or "blunts," which are commonly hollowed out and refilled with weed.

The Examiner explains why Altria is behind this legislation:

Altria's Black and Mild are the nation's top-selling cigars and control almost a quarter of the market. Because they're sold in five-packs, [Cigar Association of America] President Norman Sharp said the ban on single cigars would boost Black and Mild sales.

Additionally, the proposed weight standards would allow the company to put all of its cigars in two-packs -- the minimum requirement.

This is essentially the same strategy Altria deployed when it backed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gave the Food and Drug Administration new powers over the tobacco industry. The New York Times reported in June that Altria was positioning itself to gain a possible advantage over competitors:

[A]s the industry's richest company, with profits last year of more than $3 billion, Altria, based in Richmond, Va., has built an extensive scientific research operation. It may thus be the company best equipped to deal with the F.D.A.'s new review process for new, ostensibly safer tobacco products.

That bill had another cookie for the industry: it banned cigarette flavors, but not menthol. From Slate's Big Money:

"It is a dream come true for Philip Morris," Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, told me. "First, they make it look like they are a reformed company which really cares about reducing the toll of cigarettes and protecting the public's health; and second, they protect their domination of the market and make it impossible for potentially competitive products to enter the market." Other tobacco companies have taken to calling the bill the "Marlboro Monopoly Act of 2009."

Click here to read the Examiner's sharp story, which includes Mendelson's reaction when it was explained to him how the bill could help Altria.

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