By Timothy S. Donahue
The truth is trickling out on Campaign for Tobacco -Free Kids (CTFK). In the documentary You Don’t Know Nicotine,one source exclaims that CTFK is a “dark money organization” that is “just about as greedy as Big Tobacco.” The organization is accused of using its massive amounts of funding to shutter small businesses by using false rhetoric and bad science about e-cigarettes and other vapor products. This has helped create a “regulatory environment where only the wealthiest people will be able to play.”
During a Dec. 8 city council meeting in Loveland, Colorado, that centered on banning flavored e-cigarettes, the accusations levied against CTFK in the film played out in reality. Jodi Radke, the regional advocacy director for CTFK for the Rocky Mountain/Great Plains area, was accused of making false and misleading statements about several Loveland council members in a local newspaper ad and in several social media posts.
She accused the council members of being in cahoots with major tobacco companies. Those members took great offense to the accusations. Radke admitted to not having attended the meeting her social media posts referenced and had received her information anecdotally. She also said she did not validate what was being told to her with any of the council members she accused.
“How do you assume I’m pro-tobacco?” council member Don Overcash asked. Overcash said he did not smoke cigarettes, vape or have any tobacco industry affiliations. When asked how she garnered the information for her organization’s ad and social media posts since she did not attend the referenced meeting, Radke replied, “I don’t feel it is a question that should be directed towards me.” Radke would not directly answer other questions from named council members concerning the ad or posts. She said all CTFK actions and policy “are based on science and evidence.”
Several council members also questioned CTFK’s funding and its sources. Radke said she did not know anything about CTFK funding other than that it came from several major donors, including billionaire anti-tobacco activist Michael Bloomberg. Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, told council members that CTFK had $109 million in its coffers as of 2020 and received an additional $50 million to $60 million per year from Bloomberg (on top of the billionaire’s regular CTFK funding) to help enact flavor bans at the local level. “[At CTFK], science is constantly ignored,” Conley said. “Studies show that flavor bans actually increase the use of [combustible] cigarettes.”
Radke was also asked by council member John Fogle if the CTFK had ever considered using some of its “hundreds of millions” in funding to help the small businesses affected by CTFK’s agenda. After saying she couldn’t answer the question several times, Radke finally replied that she couldn’t answer the question because CTFK had data that showed “small businesses don’t lose money” because of CTFK policies.
After several hours of debate, the potential vote was postponed to a meeting in February. For vapor advocates, it was just another day fighting well-funded misinformation campaigns around the globe.