No Smoking

Guest post by Editor Man

Thanks to the Fundermentalist for allowing me to post on JTA’s new philanthropy blog (think of me as a trusted sidekick).

The New York Times had a lengthy article on Wednesday about the Tisch family’s move to get out of the tobacco industry:

Now, the next generation of Tisches has removed tobacco from the portfolio of the conglomerate they lead, the Loews Corporation, spinning off its tobacco unit, Lorillard, as a stand-alone business, with the Newport brand representing more than 90 percent of the new company’s revenue. The new stock began trading Tuesday, and analysts have said the new company might be a takeover target.

Separating tobacco from Loews is a timely step for the socially and philanthropically prominent Tisch family, as Newport menthol cigarettes have lately been criticized by black antismoking advocates and others. While antismoking activists have long had difficulty reconciling the relationship between cigarettes and the civic-minded Tisches, the anti-Newport flare-up has added heat to the controversy.

Members of the Tisch family declined to comment for this article. But when the spinoff was announced late last year, James S. Tisch, the Loews chief executive, said it was not because “it is politically correct to get out of the business.”

The story contains a few graffs about some of the controversy that members of the Tisch family have faced regarding their ties to the business, including a few flareups in Jewish communal circles:

It was Andrew Tisch, then Lorillard’s chairman and chief executive, who appeared alongside executives from the other six largest tobacco companies at a historic Congressional hearing in April 1994. There, all seven testified that they did not believe cigarettes were addictive.

When Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, asked Mr. Tisch whether he knew that cigarettes caused cancer, Mr. Tisch answered, “I do not believe that.”

The next year, while Laurence Tisch was chairman of CBS, the television network drew harsh criticism by killing a planned “60 Minutes” segment about a tobacco industry whistle-blower, Jeffrey Wigand. The segment ran the following year, after Loews announced plans to sell its CBS stake to Westinghouse.

Other incidents in which cigarettes have clouded the Tisches’ social standing include the outcry in 1997 when James was nominated to head the Jewish philanthropy the UJA-Federation of New York.

Leaders of two Jewish groups sent letters opposing the nomination, saying Mr. Tisch’s tobacco industry ties might damage the organization’s reputation. Mr. Tisch nonetheless became the federation’s president.

The story actually dates back even further, at least until 1995, when New York Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt wrote a column about Jewish attitudes toward smoking, which made mention of the Tisch family. Rosenblatt ended up sending an apology note (click here and scroll down).

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