2009 was a wild year in American politics. Fresh off of an election that was equal parts rejection of Bush-era policies and refusal to be force-fed Sarah Palin as a viable candidate for any public office, the American left celebrated. The American right, on the other hand, regrouped and reloaded.
Enter the Tea Party, loosely affiliated groups of conservative Americans who, through grassroots means, organized and banded together because they were upset over high taxes and the state of American debt. Bolstered by near daily coverage on Fox News and leveraging social media, the Tea Party movement spread like wild-fire. Local chapters and events popped up all over the country. The movement even helped the Republicans regain control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm elections. The Tea Party is truly an example of a powerful, organic response by an electorate to the policies of the state.
Or is it? A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Tobacco Control uncovered connections between tobacco companies, large-scale lobbying operations run by the Koch brothers, and the Tea Party movement. From the article’s abstract:
Starting in the 1980s, tobacco companies worked to create the appearance of broad opposition to tobacco control policies by attempting to create a grassroots smokers’ rights movement. Simultaneously, they funded and worked through third-party groups, such as Citizens for a Sound Economy, the predecessor of AFP and FreedomWorks, to accomplish their economic and political agenda. There has been continuity of some key players, strategies and messages from these groups to Tea Party organisations. As of 2012, the Tea Party was beginning to spread internationally.
Rather than being a purely grassroots movement that spontaneously developed in 2009, the Tea Party has developed over time, in part through decades of work by the tobacco industry and other corporate interests. It is important for tobacco control advocates in the USA and internationally, to anticipate and counter Tea Party opposition to tobacco control policies and ensure that policymakers, the media and the public understand the longstanding connection between the tobacco industry, the Tea Party and its associated organisations.