Editorial: Big Tobacco blows more smoke by hiring Boehner

By The Herald Editorial Board

Excuse us while we cough. Hack, hack. You can’t make this stuff up: Former House speaker and chain smoker John Boehner has been hired by the huge tobacco company, Reynolds American, Inc. Since it’s common for politicians who leave office to be snapped up by the lobbyist-heavy corporations that target Congress and governmental agencies, Boehner’s new employer isn’t surprising. Especially since tobacco companies were the largest contributors to his campaigns over the years.

And it makes sense that the tobacco company that makes Boehner’s favored brand, Camel Lights, would hire him. (Such arrangements between industry and former political insiders are so common, they are simply consider a natural, post-Congressional career path. Rather than, say, a conflict of interest.)

Boehner’s spokesman, Dave Schnittger, said the former GOP congressman from Ohio was hired by Reynolds to its board to … help the company stop kids from smoking, USA Today reported. A tobacco company wants to keep kids from smoking? And they hired Boehner to keep kids from smoking? Sure. Who better to keep kids from smoking than a 66-year-old smoker who never plans to quit? (The only possibility that makes sense is using Boehner himself as a scare tactic, like those anti-smoking public service announcements featuring frightening smokers/former smokers.)

The assertion that Reynolds wants to keep kids from smoking is a lie, or semantics, if the Big Tobacco wants to get huffy about it. Of course they want kids to smoke, but being on the forefront of maximizing profits and addicts, er, societal change, Big Tobacco is just as happy if kids vape their nicotine rather than smoke it. Perhaps that’s where Boehner comes in; his message might be: Don’t be old-school like me, be cool and vape instead. (Industry lobbyists are attempting to rewrite the FDA’s new e-cigarette regulations that require a retroactive evaluation to determine if e-cigarettes are appropriate for the protection of public health, the New York Times reported.)

“RAI is striving to transform the tobacco industry through innovative strategies that include speeding the decline in tobacco use among young people and reducing the harm caused by smoking. These are objectives Speaker Boehner supports and looks forward to helping RAI advance through his service on the board,” Schnittger said.

Yes, Reynolds is noted for wanting to speed the decline of tobacco use among young people by buying the nation’s No. 1 menthol cigarette, Newport, last year. Critics say minty, mentholated cigarettes mask the flavor of tobacco and make it easier for people to start smoking, and want them banned. Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported, Reynolds has tried to increase Newport sales by distributing vouchers at concerts, bars and convenience stores and by hosting smokers at Newport Pleasure Lounges at similar venues. The FDA raised a possibility of banning menthol cigarettes in 2013, and Reynolds and Lorillard (the company Reynolds bought Newport from) sued over the FDA-commissioned report that was the basis for the recommendation. Naturally, the FDA backed off.

If Reynolds, and John Boehner ever succeed in keeping young people from smoking or vaping, it will be entirely by accident, coincidence or an understandable reaction to malignant hypocrisy.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reflected the role of tobacco industry lobbyists in seeking to rewrite FDA regulations on e-cigarettes, as reported by The New York Times.

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