The Tobacco Election

How our republic can kick the habit.


Tobacco politics could become the hottest issue in this year’s election. After a 100-year history of disinformation, perjury, and fraud, America’s most lethal industry is on the verge of being brought under the law. But the tobacco industry has bought the sheriff. Or more precisely, it has secured Congress and is sponsoring the presidential campaign of a longtime ally.

The morality of the issue is clear: Tobacco kills about 420,000 Americans a year. In order to replace these customers, and the 1.3 million who quit each year, tobacco has to find new consumers: kids. Seventy percent of smokers are hooked by the time they are 18, the age when they can legally buy cigarettes.

Throughout our package of articles, you’ll keep coming upon stark facts about smoking. Although cumulatively they may desensitize you, we’ve taken that risk because, frankly, Americans are already numb. The tobacco industry has pacified the public as expertly as it has manipulated the nicotine kick in cigarettes.

Consider the Marlboro Man, Joe Camel, and Virginia Slims. The healthy, active freedom they promise hides an insidious, debilitating addiction. Using the same “big lie” technique, tobacco companies are sponsoring the Republican “get-the-government-off-our-backs” revolution that promises to return power to our communities and states. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Big Tobacco is strong-arming GOP governors and legislators to override local anti-smoking laws, tobacco excise taxes, and lawsuits brought by state attorneys general.

The tobacco companies want more–not less–centralized power. Faced with revolts throughout the country and defections from their own ranks, they’re banking on corrupt politicians to bail them out.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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