Fairness Matters to Oregonians

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

Fairness Matters to Oregonians was a front group formed by the tobacco industry in Oregon in 1996 to fight Measure 70, a ballot initiative to raise the cigarette tax. "Fairness Matters" was operated by Mark W. Nelson, president of the lobbying, campaigning and polling firm Public Affairs Counsel.


Overall strategies to defeat the tax included creating appealing, likable ads (to offset dislike of the industry itself) and "making our hat whiter and theirs blacker" (blurring the lines between public health and tobacco).[1]

Nelson polled Oregon voters to determine the most persuasive, anti-tax themes that did not discuss or draw attention to the subject of health. The themes that garnered the most positive ratings were:

1. A message portraying the tax as tyrannical and intolerant: "Oregon is a state of mind with no home for intolerance or the tyranny of the majority." (Portrays tax as persecuting smokers as a minority group.)

2. Portraying the tax as benefiting the rich ("reverse welfare for rich health care interests.")

3. Predicting misspending of the money/fomenting doubt the money will be used as intended: "If Measure 70 passes, only half of all state tobacco taxes will go to the health plan. . . the other half will still get spent by politicians on whatever they want."

4. An anti-government argument: "The problem isn't too little money, it's too much spending," and

5. A slippery-slope argument: "If politicians exploit our disapproval of a habit like smoking in order to raise money, pretty soon they'll be raising taxes on other groups of people or habits we don't approve of."[2]

"Fairness Matters to Oregon" ran advertisements based on these themes.

The activities of "Fairness Matters to Oregonians" were financed primarily through contributions from the Tobacco Institute totaling approximately $2.3 million.[3]

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