Author Archives: Mark Gottlieb

About Mark Gottlieb

Mark Gottlieb joined the staff of the Public Health Advocacy Institute in 1993 after graduating from Northeastern University School of Law. His efforts have focused on researching tobacco litigation as a public health strategy as director of the Tobacco Products Liability Project, reducing the harm caused by secondhand tobacco smoke through a variety of legal and policy approaches, fostering scholarship using tobacco industry documents, and, more recently, examining legal and policy approaches to address obesity. He is the Executive Director of the Institute and lives in Cambridge, MA with his wife and three children.

Snowflakes Are Found in 84 Degree Richmond: The 2017 Altria Group Annual Shareholders Meeting

By Edward L. Sweda, Jr., PHAI Senior Attorney

As I approached the Greater Richmond Convention Center on the partly cloudy morning of Thursday, May 18, 2017, thoughts of sub-freezing temperatures and snowstorms never entered my mind.  But, before the morning gave way to the afternoon, I realized that I had just seen dozens of snowflakes.

As he opened the meeting just before 9:00 A.M., Altria Group Chairman, President and CEO Martin J. Barrington declared that the company had experienced “another outstanding year” in 2016.  That was followed by a “solid start” in the first quarter of 2017.  He listed four priorities for the company:

  1. Tobacco Harm Reduction;
  2. Marketing;
  3. Supply Chain Responsibility; and
  4. Employees.

The company’s strategies are:

  1. Maximize income from core tobacco businesses over the long term;
  2. Grow new streams with innovative tobacco products (including MarkTen XL, the “fastest growing e-vapor brand” in the last quarter of 2016); and
  3. Manage diverse income streams and a strong balance sheet to deliver consistent financial performance (citing Altria’s ownership of over 10% of AB InBev and its Ste. Michelle Wine Estates ).

I was able to begin the Question and Answer session of the meeting with the following question:

“You and other executives of Altria Group have often referred to tobacco litigation as an issue that is ‘manageable’ and, therefore, should not be troubling to investors.

Yet, just within the past two months, the following developments have occurred:

  • On April 6th, the Florida Supreme Court in the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Marotta case ruled that federal law does not preempt Engle Progeny plaintiffs from bringing strict liability and negligence claims against tobacco companies.
  • On April 12th in the Boatright v. Philip Morris USA, Inc. case, a Florida Appeals Court affirmed a jury award of $35 million against Philip Morris USA, Inc., and reversed the reduction of the award by the trial judge because the smoker was also at fault for his illnesses, ruling that Florida’s comparative fault law does not apply to intentional torts.  This increases the company’s exposure to liability.
  • On April 6th in the Sommers v. Philip Morris case, a Florida state jury awarded $1 million to the widow of a lawyer and real estate developer after finding Philip Morris responsible for his coronary artery diseases and fatal lung cancer.

My question is: do you understand why there are shareholders who believe that the tobacco litigation problem is no longer simply ‘manageable’?

Mr. Barrington’s response was, while acknowledging these and other recent legal setbacks for Altria, to emphasize that in the larger picture, tobacco lawsuits are still “manageable” in the view of Altria’s management.  He admitted that “litigation presents a risk and we devote substantial resources to it.”  Mr. Barrington also claimed that the litigation has been “well managed” and that the slope of the numbers of cases “has been coming down.”  Regarding Engle, he said that it presents a “complex set of individual cases” and that Altria is “working our way through it.”  He complained that the “terms on which those cases are being tried are not particularly fair to the defendants.”  He concluded by stating that tobacco litigation is “a complex matter but it is a finite matter.”

Reality Check’s Jonathan Chaffe asked about the growing number of localities across the country that have adopted Age 21 policies – making it illegal to sell or give cigarettes and other tobacco products to people under age 21.  Mr. Barrington responded by saying that he prefers to minimum age to be 18 rather than 21.  He also raised the potential problem of communities that have passed Age 21 laws being surrounded by other communities that hadn’t, thus encouraging young smokers to travel to a place where the minimum age is still 18.  Finally, he opined that it would be better to have this issue dealt with by Congress, rather than by states or localities.

A 15-year-old student from Elmira, New York asked Mr. Barrington what steps Altria is taking “to ensure that specific populations with higher smoking rates based on ethnicity, income, education and mental health are not being profiled by Altria’s advertising?”  Altria’s current top executive gave an answer that any number of his predecessors have given over the years.  He claimed that the company markets cigarettes “only to adults.”

In response to a question about how Altria plans to respond to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s November 2016 policy for smoke-free public housing, Mr. Barrington said that Altria “hasn’t weighed in” on the issue but that, as a general rule, homeowners should decide whether to allow smoking in people’s homes.

A shareholder resolution, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia (see http://osfphila.org/ ), called on the company to “voluntarily commit itself that, by August 15, 2017, it will not allow any images of its logo or products be placed anywhere outside any store, in store windows or anywhere else inside any store selling its tobacco products and will stop incentives to any retailer for such placements.”  The proposal noted that “people of low socioeconomic status have higher rates of cigarette smoking than the general population” and that a city of Philadelphia analysis of licenses found that lower income zip codes “had two-thirds more tobacco retailers per capita than higher-income zip codes and three-quarters more within 1000 feet of a school.”

The resolution received a 2.6% YES vote.

Before, during and after the meeting, at least thirty teenagers demonstrated outside the convention center, carrying teal and black balloons to emphasize how young people who begin using a deadly and addictive product become replacement smokers for Altria’s customers who die from smoking-caused diseases.  The teenagers, who were accompanied be several adults, were representatives of Reality Check New York ) and No Limits Nebraska.

After the 50-minute meeting had ended, I emerged from the meeting room to learn that the approximately 85 attendees were blocked from exiting from the same doors through which they had entered an hour or so earlier.  Instead, everyone had to walk down a long corridor – about the length of a city block – to get to the exit which led to the parking garage.

Why did Altria management take this action, which had never been done before in my experience of having attended annual shareholder meetings for more than 20 years?

If it hadn’t done so, shareholders would have seen dozens of teenagers wearing T-shirts with the message “People Over Profit.”  They would have seen the balloons that represent both tobacco’s death toll and replacement toll.  They would have heard the chants that describe the lies used by tobacco companies to help maximize profit levels at the expense of the health and the lives of the public.

In May 2016, the Urban Dictionary defined “snowflake” as “an overly sensitive person, incapable of dealing with any opinions that differ from their own.”  The key message of this year’s Altria Group shareholders meeting was not that 2016 was an “outstanding” year for the company.  It was that Altria’s management is afraid of opinions that differ from their own, especially when those opinions are espoused by young people who have the courage to speak truth to power – up close and personal.

PHAI Board Member Ben Kelley on Safety Implications of Autonomous Vehicles

Ben Kelley, a leading authority on automotive safety, is a member or the Board of Director for the Public Health Advocacy Institute.  Recently he published a scholarly article and op-ed discussing the safety implications of autonomous, i.e., “self-driving,” vehicles.

The article appeared in the Journal of Public Health Policy.  JPHP is co-published by another of our board members, Anthony Robbins.  The article examines key safety issues in long transformation to autonomous vehicles.

The op-ed appeared in the excellent investigative journalism site, FairWarning.org and, in a shorter form, in the Oregonian. It considers the impact of Trump Administration policies that may impact the safety of autonomous vehicles.

PHAI Submits Comments to Support Smoke-Free Low Income Housing to MA Dept of Housing and Community Development

PHAI, on behalf of the Tobacco Free Living Community of Practice (a statewide coalition organized through the Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health), submitted recommendations to the  Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (“MDHCD”) for its 2017 Qualified Allocation Draft Plan and Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program.

MDHCD implements the federal  Law Income Housing Tax Credit and helps encourage the development of private low-income housing.  Its 2017 Qualified Allocation Draft Plan, which includes a competitive scoring system for applicants seeking to build low-income housing and claim tax credits, provides points to applicants that promote clean indoor air.

Chris Banthin, PHAI’s Director of its Tobacco Control Resource Center, suggests in Comments submitted in December 23, 2016, that applicants should be required to include smoke-free policies for all indoor common areas and living units or, alternatively, that points be awarded to applicants that agree to implement such policies.

The following organizations signed on to the comments to lend their support:

• American Lung Association, Northeast
• Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America, New England Chapter
• Beacon Communities LLC
• Boston Alliance for Community Health
• Boston Children’s Hospital
• Boston Public Health Commission
• Charlestown Coalition
• Codman Square Health Center
• Codman Square Neighborhood Council
• Dorchester Bay EDC
• East Boston Neighborhood Health Center
• Fenway CDC
• Harbor Health Services, Inc.
• Health Resources in Action
• Healthy Weight Initiative, HSPH
• Massachusetts Environmental Health Association
• MGH Center for Community Health Improvement
• New England Regional Council of the National Association of the Housing and Redevelopment Officials
• Peabody Properties, Inc.
• Public Health Advocacy Institute, Inc.
• Vaughan W. Rees, PhD, Director, Center for Global Tobacco Control, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
• Resilient Sisterhood Project
• South Boston Substance Abuse Prevention Collaborative
• South End Community Health Center
• Tobacco Free Mass

PHAI Joins Center for Science in the Public Interest in Filing Lawsuit Against Coca-Cola for Deceptive Marketing

BOSTON – Two non-profits that use litigation as a public health strategy have joined forces in a lawsuit accusing the Coca-Cola Company (“Coke”) along with the American Beverage Association (“ABA”) of misleading the public about the science that links heart disease, obesity, and diabetes to consumption of sugary beverages. For years, the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston and the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, DC relied on civil litigation as a tool to achieve policy change to benefit public health.

Download the Complaint here.

The lawsuit was filed today in federal court in the Northern District of California on behalf of a California non-profit, the Praxis Project, which has had to devote resources to correcting the misleading messages that Coke and the ABA have disseminated. These include spreading the notion that the main cause of obesity is lack of exercise or that “a calorie is a calorie,” regardless of whether it comes from Coke or from kale. The science, in fact, shows that sugary drinks such as Coca-Cola have been found to play a real role in the obesity crisis and that calorie intake is more significant than calorie expenditure in terms of the problems of obesity and overweight. The lawsuit also accuses Coke of failing to comply with its pledge to not market to children.  The action alleges violations of California’s Business and Professional Code as well as negligent and intentional breaches of a special duty to protect the consuming public.

The plaintiffs seek a court order to enjoin Coke and ABA from denying the link between sugary drinks and obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease and to stop any marketing to children.  They also seek a court order for defendants to disclose and publish all research they have directly or indirectly conducted on the impact of sugary beverages on health and the impact of exercise on obesity vs sugary drink consumption.  Furthermore, the plaintiff asks the court to order the defendants to fund a corrective public education campaign and place prominent warnings on their internet sites that consumption of sugary beverages can lead to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

The attorneys for the plaintiff include Maia C. Kats, litigation director of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest; Andrew Rainer, litigation director of the nonprofit Public Health Advocacy Institute; and Michael R. Reese of the law firm Reese LLP.

PHAI attorney Andrew Rainer considers this lawsuit to be about defending science from manipulation by those who seek to increase profit at the expense of public health. Rainer says, “the Public Health Advocacy Institute has joined in this complaint in an effort to prevent the distortion of science for corporate gain. Just as the tobacco industry manipulated and distorted science for decades to deny the dangers and addictiveness of cigarettes, and the oil industry works to systematically distort science to deny climate change, Coca Cola and the American Beverage Association are engaged in a campaign to deny the established science linking sugar-sweetened beverages to obesity and diabetes.”

Mark Gottlieb, executive director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute, characterizes this filing as, “the tip of the iceberg when it comes to purveyors of sugar-added products seeking to shift all responsibility for health harms to their consumers. Coke pays dietitians to tell consumers things like drinking coke can be a healthy snack and pays scientists to deny that sugary drinks are linked to obesity and then suggests that the main cause of obesity and related disease is lack of exercise. The hypocrisy of suggesting to consumers that burning calories through laughing can offset the harmful effects of drinking soda is no laughing matter. And, yes, Coke really suggested that.”

PHAI’s partner, the Center for Science in the Public Interest included the following bullet points from the complaint in its press release.

  • Coca-Cola’s senior vice president, Katie Bayne, claims that “[t]here is no scientific evidence that connects sugary beverages to obesity.”
  • “There is no unique link between soda consumption and obesity,” claims a post on the ABA’s website.
  • “Simply put, it is wrong to say beverages cause disease,” the ABA stated in another release.
  • Coke’s incoming CEO, James Quincey, equated sugar-sweetened beverages to any other calories, dismissing their unique contribution to the obesity epidemic by asserting such beverages contribute only two percent of calories overall.
  • Coke also paid health professionals to promote sugar-sweetened beverages, including one dietitian who suggested that an eight-ounce soda could be a healthy snack, like “packs of almonds.”

The Public Health Advocacy Institute set up its Center for Public Health Litigation in 2014 in order to hold responsible corporate interests that harm public health and defend policies that protect public health.

Dec. Issue of Atlantic: PHAI’s Daynard and Friedman Comment in Powerful Gambling Addiction Article

In a powerful long form article by by John Rosengren covers the impact of gambling addiction and the predatory casino industry.  The article, entitled “How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts,” details the ways that electronic gambling machines, like slot machines, along with outrageously predatory tactics used by casinos to bait problem gamblers, combine to destroy the lives of gamblers and their families.

The well-written and deeply researched piece quotes Northeastern University Distinguished Professor of Law and PHAI President, Richard A. Daynard along with PHAI Senior Staff Attorney Lissy Friedman .

Gambling is a public health issue that causes or exacerbates psychiatric disorders, alcoholism, and substance abuse.  Addicted gamblers are at dramatically increased risk for suicide and may steal to continue gambling.  Casinos do not deliver on the economic promises they make and often contribute to economic problems at the community level. PHAI seeks to use legal and policy measures to reduce the public health impact of predatory gambling.

PHAI’s Gottlieb Comments on FDA Regulations’ Effect on Vaping Industry on All Things Considered

On August 8, 2016, new regulations by the FDA went into effect that have a profound impact on a major segment of the electronic cigarette industry:  vape shops.  The shops that mix flavors for vaping products are now considered to be manufacturers and subject to the same requirements as manufactures owned by the companies that make Marlboros, Camels, and Newports.

The new rules will require each and every flavor variation of electronic cigarettes to be approved by the FDA as a new tobacco product.  The cost associated with each application is estimated by the agency to average over $300,000.  Vape shops had typically created many dozens of varieties of “e-juice” every month and, under the new rules, the revenues from these flavor varieties would account for only a small fraction of the cost for submitting new tobacco product applications. This has led some vape shops to close their doors.

WGBH’s Isaiah Thompson reported on these developments  for NPR’s All Things Considered (with an expanded written version). PHAI’s executive director, Mark Gottlieb, is quoted in the piece.

Vape Shop

PHAI’s Daynard Discusses Tony Gwynn Lawsuit on ESPN and in the New York Times

gwynn_family_griefOn May 23, 2016, the widow and children of baseball great Tony Gwynn filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Altria Group alleging that the manufacturers of Skoal smokeless tobacco’s negligence, fraud, defective design, and failure-to-warn caused the death of the Hall of Famer in 2014.

Richard Daynard, PHAI’s president and University Distinguished Professor of Law at Northeastern University, discussed the case in the New York Times and also on ESPN along with Neil Romano of the National Spit Tobacco Education project.

Support PHAI’s Violence Transformed Program

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In 2015, a remarkable program moved to PHAI. Violence Transformed is an annual series of visual and performing arts events that celebrate the power of art, artists and art-making to confront, challenge and mediate violence.  Violence Transformed furthers our public health goal of reducing preventable injury.

Project Director, Mary Harvey, recently sent out this request for support:


Dear Friends — Artists, Curators, Donors, Friends and “Friends of Friends”:

       Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to Violence Transformed and invite your friends and colleagues to do likewise.  To make an online contribution, please visit our website: www.violencetransformed.com  and click on DONATE.

        I am making this appeal at an exceptional time in the very unique history of Violence Transformed. Now in its Tenth Anniversary Year, Violence Transformed continues to launch an annual (and annually expanding) series of visual and performing arts exhibits and events. In addition, in 2015 Violence Transformed embraced the goal of broadening and deepening its engagement with the health and public health community — supporting artist-led workshops for health care providers who serve individuals and communities affected by and at continuing risk of violence and identifying violence as a public health issue requiring the attention of communities locally, nationally and indeed world wide.

           Blessed with a truly remarkable level of collaboration among artists, arts organizations, health and mental health service organizations, and partnering venues throughout Greater Boston, Violence Transformed is growing in ways we never anticipated and is attracting the interest of artists and organizations beyond Boston and indeed beyond our nation’s borders. Please keep visiting our website to keep track of current and upcoming events and to look at the works already brought to Boston this year.  There you can also view a digital archive of Violence Transformed activities from 2007 forward.

           All in all, Violence Transformed is exhilarating, fulfilling …and daunting!  While we continue to seek grant funding where available, none of what we have done could have been done without the tremendous volunteer energy, commitment  and passions of participating artists, curators, academics, social activists and sponsors.  Nor can it be done without significant financial assistance from donors who believe in Violence Transformed and have stepped up to  contribute whatever they can.  

             We use  your donations to:  support our curators and our website and social media staff, to award Artist Honorariums if and as we are able to do so, and to publicize the work and cover the growing operational costs of Violence Transformed.  We can always use large donations, of course, but we welcome donations of any size.  We are proud that at 80% of the funds we bring in do go directly to artists, curators and arts organizations that affiliate with us. 

         So …. thank you for whatever you are able to contribute and for whatever help you can give us by passing the word of this unique enterprise on to others who might be interested in supporting our work.  I hope that you are proud of what we do and of your role in contributing to Violence Transformed.

Thank you.

Mary

Mary R. Harvey, Ph.D.
Director, Violence Transformed
Public Health Advocacy Institute
360  Huntington Avenue / #117 Cushing Hall
Boston, MA 02115
Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology
Department of Psychiatry
Harvard Medical School
Cambridge Health Alliance