Interview with Charles Blixt
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company
© 1996 Hedrick Smith Productions, Inc.
The Tobacco Lobby: Money, Grassroots, and
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
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
SMITH: The politics, the public relations, the communications, all that?
BLIXT: All of that's involved in -- in our maintaining our right to stay
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
© 1996 Hedrick Smith Productions, Inc.