Interview with Charles Blixt
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company

© 1996 Hedrick Smith Productions, Inc.

The Tobacco Lobby: Money, Grassroots, and Telemarketing

SMITH: ...What about the President's initiative on teenage smokers and trying to focus on that. What would be -- what's your objection to that and would the impact of that be in your opinion

BLIXT: We have no objection to -- to anybody initiative which is going to reduce the incidents of youth smoking in this country. We have repeatedly said and we believe kids shouldn't smoke. We don't want kids smoking. But this isn't about kids smoking. The FDA's proposal is not about youth smoking, it's about should the government intrude into the daily lives of American -- adult American smokers and should ultimately tobacco products be prohibited. That's the agenda of the anti-smoking industry and I believe that's the agenda of the FDA at this point.

SMITH: So, this is a revisiting of prohibition in effect, the prohibition amendment to the Constitution?

BLIXT: There are two ways you can prohibit products. One is straight up, face the issue, you don't like something, as they did in the 19 -- in the early 20th century. With alcohol, you absolutely prohibit something. The American people have been through that, they know that's not appropriate, they don't want it for any product, certainly not for tobacco products. The other way you can do it and the way that the anti-smoking industry is trying to do it now is through the back door, try to make it so difficult for people to buy cigarettes, so difficult for people to get advertising about cigarette products and so difficult for them to smoke anywhere, including in their own home, in some instances, to prohibit smoking through the back door rather than facing the issue straight up.

SMITH: Did you at RJR and other companies in the industry encourage your employees and your customers and others to write in? Obviously, this was a wide open invitation from the FDA for anybody to write in.

BLIXT: We encourage anybody to comment on these proposed regulations, the entire tobacco family who is affected by it, as well as our consumers and customers and many many non-smokers who -- who believe that these broad sweeping grabs for power by the federal bureaucracy are inappropriate.

(Hedrick Smith shows several tobacco industry products to Charles Blixt that contain appeals to customers to contact the FDA and Congress, including a Camel carton, a Winston Select Carton and some direct mail solicitations).

SMITH: In connection to appealing to people, Let me just ask you about what I came across. This is a Camel carton from your company and then inside there's a solicitation. Essentially, what's the pitch here?

BLIXT: This is a way that we can use to communicate with our customers, to tell them in response to their inquiries, here's how you can deal with this issue and here's how you can talk directly to the federal government when they're trying to attack your right to smoke.

SMITH: Is this now pretty much standard in every carton?

BLIXT: Oh, no, this is -- these things are put into cartons when there's an issue that's in front of -- uh -- facing the customers who buy our products. Because frequently we'll get calls from them, we'll get inquiries from them, what do I do, how do I address these issues.

SMITH: What you're talking about here in terms of your company and the tobacco industry is an enormous effort, what does it cost to fight something like this in terms of legal costs -- what did you say 40,000 pages of documents -- a lot of typing of xeroxing -- are we into tens of millions of dollars to deal with something for your company and repeat it for Brown and Williamson, Phillip Morris, repeat it for others...what does it cost?

BLIXT: Well, certainly, Rick, whenever there's a proposal by the federal government to totally disrupt our business, to attack our industry, to attack the consumer's right to have access to these products which are totally legal in this country and try to limit the ability of people to have freedom to choose, to smoke if they want to, we as a tobacco company are willing to spend whatever it costs to insure that that illegal action doesn't -- doesn't get taken. And I think your characterization of tens of millions is probably accurate.

Congress & Lobbyists: The Inside Influence Game

SMITH: What about in terms of communicating with Congress?... Isn't it very similar to a political campaign in some ways?

BLIXT: Well, it's an expensive operation, but it's the right thing to do for our customers who want to have the ability to choose to smoke and to have access to products. And it's the cost of us -- to us of doing business and a cost that we have to do to enable our customers to have the right to smoke and the right to purchase this legal product if they choose to do it.

SMITH: ...You're communicating with members of Congress, you're communicating with large numbers of the public, you're communicating directly with the FDA, you're organizing people. You've got to pay attention to the legislative situation on the Hill...you have to do all this to defend your business?

BLIXT: But we have to do all of these things to defend our right to do business and our customers' right to have access to a legal product that they choose to use. And, certainly, all of those things that you've outlined are a part of it.

SMITH: The politics, the public relations, the communications, all that?

BLIXT: All of that's involved in -- in our maintaining our right to stay in business.

SMITH: I'm wondering about the contacts with the Congress now...we were talking a few moments ago about Waxman and the hearing which obviously -- it wasn't something you all welcomed.

BLIXT: That's a safe assumption, Rick.

SMITH: I presume the climate is a good deal more friendly at the moment. You have Tom Bliley as Chairman of the House Commerce committee... he said there will be no more regulation of the tobacco industry while I'm Chairman. From your perspective, are you more relaxed about Congress now, have you got a better climate than you had, say, two years ago?

BLIXT: Well, I think the whole country has a better climate in Congress, if the whole country believes as I believe the American people believe that we don't need additional federal bureaucracy intruding into the daily lives of Americans. Whether specific Congressmen or specific committees of the Congress are a more friendly environment for us, I'd leave up to the political commentators, but certainly we haven't had any hearings since -- since Mr. Bliley became Chairman of that subcommittee.

SMITH: In that sense, it's obviously better?

BLIXT: Well, certainly those hearings, specifically as they were conducted were not the kind of hearings that anybody would enjoy going through, because they were conducted in what I consider to be a very unprofessional manner.

SMITH: [There has been a marked shift in political contributions] to the Republican party by a lot of people but strikingly by yourselves and others in the tobacco industry. What's the reason for that?

BLIXT: Well, I think the primary reason for that is we as a company just as any other company that is involved with any business makes contributions to political people who believe in the same things we believe in. And it is apparent to us that the kind of people that believe what we believe that the federal government doesn't need to be creating massive new bureacracies, intruding into people's daily lives are on that side of the isle right now. And those are the people who we made contributions to because they believe the same things we believe.

SMITH: So bucks and beliefs have flown together instead of balancing off as in the past.

BLIXT: Well, I wouldn't necessarily say that Rick because I know we do make some contributions to Democrats as well as Republicans, but to those who believe what we believe. And certainly we are not going to make contributions to people who are going to attack our industry and attack the issues we stand for.
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© 1996 Hedrick Smith Productions, Inc.