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United Restaurant Hotel Tavern Association
(URHTA) The URHTA was an old association of New York State restauranteurs with a number of different chapters. By the mid-1990s the association was virtually defunct, but it was taken over and revived by a PR-savvy executive Scott Wexler in order to combat the anti-smoking movement.
Peter Vallone, the Speaker of the New York City Council who introduced the 1994 bill to ban smoking in public places, came under sustained attack from the tobacco industry for many years. There are 1878 documents carrying references to 'Vallone' in the tobacco archives.
The smoking-ban in New York City set a precedent which the tobacco industry couldn't ignore. It created what became known as "New York's Tobacco Wars" .
At the time, the Governor of New York State was Mario Cuomo , but his failure to take the side of commerce over the rights of non-smoking citizens led Philip Morris (largely through the personal intervention of CEO Geoff Bible and Board member Rupert Murdoch with his New York Post newspaper) to provide financial and grassroots support of Cuomo's Republican gubnatorial opponent, George Pataki.
Murdoch set up a private fund-raising dinner, with the CEO's of a dozen prominent corporations, just AFTER the election. This had repercussions further down the line when Governor Pataki, Philip Morris and some of the other companies represented at this meeting became embroiled in a major junket's scandal.
The 2001 booklet "New York's Tobacco Wars: How the cigarette companies conspired to prevent New York from Clearing its air." has a good overview of the larger anti-smoking battles which went on for many years. See Booklet
Also see the reference for Executive Director Scott Wexler
1934: Claimed establishment date for the URHTA.
1985: Under threat of a smoking ban in public areas, the Tobacco Institute (TI) set up meetings with "allied groups" - public venue operators, hotels and restaurants.
1986 March 21: Mayor Koch of the New York City Council proposed smoking restriction. He appointed a Special Commission (headed by Joseph Califano , former Secretary of HEW under President Carter) to review public comments and to prepare an ordinance.
The industry planned a direct lobbying and public relations/media campaign in opposition to the bans. They also turn out their "Tobacco Family" (TAN) resources to write individual letters.
Each TI member company has resources available which must be activated during this campaign : CEO-level contact with Mayor Koch and others; utilization of company-retained counsel; memoranda in opposition and letter-writing campaigns by subsidiaries, suppliers and vendors; labor contacts; and, mailings to consumers are among potential projects.
1986 April 10: Roger Mozingo of the Tobacco Industry makes an "Action Request" through TAN [Tobacco Action Network] for a petition and letter-writing campaign by industry staff and their families, with professional lobbying support. They also intend to enlist allies in associated industries:
Plans are being undertaken and executed to enlist the support of tobacco-related groups and coalition organizations in order to defeat the legislation. Included are distributors, retailers, restaurateurs, hotel/motel associations, chambers of commerce and labor associations.
1986 Apr 11: URHTA's Executive Director Scott Wexler writes to Richard Scanlan at the Tobacco Institute saying:
I have recently reviewed the proposed no-smoking bill being pushed by Mayor Koch in NYC and I am astounded. My New York City members are extremely anxious to help bury this legislation.
Please supply me with any information that may be useful in opposing this bill. Also, could you inform me of any plans by the Tobacco industry to defeat the Koch initiative.
1986 May 28: Scott and Richard are now on first-name terms and proposing to meet with "several of your members" at the Georgian Resort Motel. The Tobacco Institute also sends along a "contribution to assist in your Annual Spring Meeting".
And a few weeks later Richard writes that:
Jerry and I are delighted to forward for your distribution our contributions to the five borough local associations. We continue to look forward to a most enjoyable working relationship with you and your.members.
1986 Aug 21: The Tobacco Institute has given the Staten Island branch of the organization another $100.
1986 Aug: The Tobacco Institute is also advertising in the main State organisation's directory.
1987 Mar 13: A group of restaurant organizations file suit in the state Supreme Court contesting the Public Health Council regulations on the grounds that the City Council had exceeding its powers under the state constitution. The tobacco companies paid the litigation costs. The courts overturned the regulations.
1988 May 20: Scott Wexler of the URHTA, invites the Tobacco Institute to participate in an 'industry panel discussion".
1989 June: Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo released a study demonstrating that exposure to secondhand smoke was prevalent and dangerous to non-smokers.
This triggered the New York City Council to act in support of the Grannis Bill, which restricted smoking in auditoriums, elevators, gymnasiums, public transport, child day car centers, classrooms, colleges and universities, hospitals, theatres, museums, libraries, banks, and restrooms. Non-smokers must be guaranteed a smoke-free workplace.
Small restaurants and bars, were exempt, but larger restaurants needed to have smoking and non-smoking areas.
1989 July 5: New York City passes the Clean Indoor Air Act. At that time it was considered one of the most comprehensive state laws in the nation. However it still allowed smokers and non-smokers to be seated in the same rooms in a restaurant — it only enforced the simple division of the room into smoking and non-smoking sections.
1990 Jan 11: The URHTA sends Philip Morris an invitations to a cocktail reception which purports to be for a "Fund to Protect Tavern Owners and Restaurateurs from Hidden Prosecution." The charge is $100 per ticket. [The funds were for members caught serving liquor to underage customers]
1990 Nov 30.: Scott Wexler is now helping the Tobacco Institute run an "It's the Law" [under age smoking campaign] PR campaign. The TI wants "co-sponsors" to register and write letters.
Scott Wexler registers the URHTA with its 2000 member/outlets, as a co-sponsor and send letterhead paper via Federal Express for the Institute to send out press releases on its behalf.
Draft press releases:
1990 Dec 11: The URHTA is now issuing a press release (along with the convenience stores and vending machine operators) promoting the Tobacco Industry's "Its the Law" program. The aim of this program is to convince legislators and the public that the tobacco industry isn't interested in recruiting teenage smokers, and is actively involved in trying to block them from obtaining cigarettes.
1990 Dec 19: The Tobacco Institute is invited to become a member of the URHTA for an annual fee of "only $500" and a "special inventive" to run a complimentary full-page ad it their directory — "a $1000 value."
They take up the offer:
The battle is renewed
1994 Mar 16: New York City Council under Speaker, Peter Vallone , introduced a Smoke-Free Air Act, with 31 co-sponsors. It required smoking and non-smoking areas in restaurants to be separately ventilated, and further restricted smoking in public places. [See the tobacco industry timeline:]
1994 June 6: The City Council held a public hearing on the Act [now known as 232A].
The tobacco companies bused a large number of its own employees to the hearing to demonstrate against the Vallone legislation "They wore shirts intended to portray them as independent retailers, but when City Council members discovered the ruse, they reacted angrily." The tobacco industry then decided to "lay low for the time being." [Timeline]
Philip Morris also attempted to slip in one of their most useful secret consultants, Richard Silberman , who worked for Healthy Buildings International (HBI) [a collaborator funded by the Tobacco Institute]. He pretended to be an expert on air-quality and an independent witness. This report says "Council is interested in studies to back up his testimony." [These were later done by HBI]
1994 Sept 23-26: in the days before the Council's second hearing the URHTA (which was perpetually broke) ran a full page ad (claiming the city was moving "Backwards") in the New York Times, Newsday, the New York Post and the Daily News. It detailed claimed adverse economic impacts of the bill and called on New Yorkers to contact the Mayor and their Council members to protest.
In addition, a 60-second radio spot was produced [via the Tobacco Institute], featuring the same message as the "Backwards" ads, which was run on major New York City stations.
The restaurateurs then testified alongside the Tobacco Institute and the National Smokers Alliance (NSA — a Philip Morris front). The New York Times reported that Steve Parrish of PM had threatened to "reconsider basing its headquarters in NYC if the ban passed." Philip Morris also called upon its allies in the art world for support (PM gave the art world a few million a year, and expected support in return).
However a survey of New York diners found that 70% agreed that all smoking should be banned. A separate Gallup poll also found that New Yorkers favored smoke-free restaurants. [Timeline]
1994 Sep 30: /E An Advocate Institute Report on "Front Groups" says that the URHTA predicted a 25% drop in restaurant revenues, if the bill was passed. They placed newspaper ads and sent direct mail denouncing the bill, specifically targeting over 10,000 restaurant owners, some saying "We consider this, short of alcohol beverage prohibition, the most serious risk to our bottom line."
However, New York City-based SmokeFree Educational Services reported [incorrectly] that the URHTA had neither an office nor a telephone number in New York City, and that the majority of the individual borough offices were defunct. They also said [correctly] that Philip Morris was behind the campaign.
"In fact, the United Restaurant, Hotel, Tavern Association of New York doesn't have an office in New York City. It doesn't have a telephone number in New York City. And its Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, and Staten Island chapters are all defunct!
[In fact, the URTA's office was in Albany, not New York City, so while strictly correct, they were also misleading their readers.] [Source: The New York Times, 26 Sept 1994]
When you think about it, it isn't surprising to learn that the outfit behind the campaign attacking the City Council for protecting the health of New Yorkers is none other than — Philip Morris, the giant tobacco company, whose executives still deny that tobacco smoke causes cancer or any other disease."
1994 Oct: Philip Morris reacted by promoting its "Accommodation Program" which was effectively a call on smokers to be courteous in return for governments retaining the status quo on smoking regulations.
PM, NSA and the URHTA flooded the newspapers with ads, press-releases, and claimed threats from international travelers to "boycott travel to NYC if the smoking ban was enacted."
PR giant Burson-Marsteller was contracted to organize the restaurant owners, and they commissioned Price WaterHouse to run a survey which claimed that the city would lose $27 million annually in sales taxes and over 11,000 jobs.
The allied tobacco distributors association also released a study that found "thousands of the 86,000 tobacco-related jobs in NYC would be jeopardized." The sky ws clearly falling! [Timeline]
1994 Nov: /E Four major New York newspapers were approached to oppose the smoking ban, but three declined; they supported the non-smoking ordinance. However an approach made by Burson-Marsteller to one newspaper succeeded. This was Rupert Murdoch's own ... "New York Post - Eric Breindel's office declined meeting, citing [the] paper's recent past support for our position. [saying] 'You're preaching to the converted.'
[See later 'BM Wrap report']
1994 Nov Anti-smoking Governor Mario Cuomo was defeated in the election by the business-friendly Republican George Pataki who had campaigned on pro-business policies.
1994 Dec 12: Burson-Marsteller's Wrap reports on its PR activities to Philip Morris: "Re NYC Restaurant PR" They had been involved in checking recruitment of the 'right' restaurateurs for Price Waterhouse to survey, and then promoting the "economic impact study to key media." Scott Wexler with his "more than $500 million and 11,000 job-loss" claims was Burson-Marsteller's star media spokesman.
1994 Dec 12: Phillip Morris Board-member and media magnate, Rupert Murdoch, asked a number of his corporate friends to attend a post-election fund-raising dinner for Governor-elect George Pataki and Senator Alphonse D'Amato . [This was a celebratory dinner for Republican supporters; this had been the Gingrich "Contract With America" election.]
Philip Morris and some of the companies in this group later funded two elaborate Pataki junkets to Italy and Hungary. See Pataki.
1994 Dec 13: Philip Morris's CEO Geoff Bible writes to Governor-elect Pataki the next day saying:
"It was a pleasure visiting with you last night. I trust that this will only be the beginning of what I know can be a mutually beneficial dialogue."
He also discussed the Vallone Bill, and argued that it should be amended to protect the "City's economy from sudden economic fallout"
"Over the years, this State and, more recently, New York City, have become inhospitable to our business, our products and especially our consumers. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to share our views with you in the hope that we can begin a new and lasting relationship, one that would be to the mutual benefit to the State, our headquarters city, and Philip Morris . Thank you again and I look forward to hearing from you ."
Two days later a check for $25,000 from Philip Morris was deposited to Pataki's then-secret "Inaugural Account".
1994 Dec 21: In a massive lost for the tobacco industry, the City Council approved the Smoke-Free Air Act unanimously [one document says "by 36 to 8"] Philip Morris continued their media blitz, but some restaurateurs and hotel owners welcomed the ban:
Danny Meyer, owner of Union Square Cafe, said his business has nearly doubled since he imposed a voluntary ban four and a half years ago.
1994 Dec 22: Burson-Marsteller reported to Philip Morris on its NYC/232A legislative activities. The restauranteurs were clearly not united behind the URHTA's activities, despite BM's PR work for Scott Wexler. Burson-Marsteller says:
Please note that the goodwill and cooperation that existed among restaurant owners preceding last week's Health Committee vote was not as abundant during this period.
[They also] Drafted two letters-to-the-editor for distribution. These were not sent because restaurateurs were reluctant to put their signature to them.
1995 Jan 19: Mayor Giuliani made a show of publicly signing the bill, thumbing his nose at Philip Morris, as the reporter says:
"He felt so strongly about ETS that he would not hesitate. In our society he felt that people cannot do anything they want, especially if it harms others. This was one of those times.
"He also felt that NYC should never allow itself to be extorted. No company or business is that important. He then called all of Joe Cherner's people [anti-smoking activists] up to the platform for the signing."
1995 Jan 17: Trying to clear up loose ends after their defeat, the Tobacco Institute asks Scott to invoice Lorillard for $48,204 to cover just one of the advertisements that the URHTA ran on behalf of the industry. Lorillard's involvement had been trivial compared to the millions that Philip Morris spent.
1995 Jan 30: /E Despite the odds, Burson-Marsteller weren't inclined to give up the NYC project and they wrote, suggesting to Mary Couglin and Tara Carraro [both with PM USA's Media Affairs] that they begin a long-term campaign.
The battle rejoined.
1995 Feb 10: In reply to a letter from Scott Wexler, the office of the Mayor of New York states:
Although many opponents of the Smoke-Free Air Act have contended that a smoking ban in restaurants would cause a 30% loss in the City's restaurant industry, studies predicating economic catastrophe for the restaurant industry under a smoking ban have proven to be unfounded.
They then list a number of studies which show that the non-smoking ban had been well accepted, and had not had any significant impact on either the city or the businesses.
The city's Economic Policy and Marketing Group has analyzed several studies that were provided by the tobacco industry. They conclude that in many cases, flawed methodologies were used and that the resulting estimates of potential revenue losses were not accurately calculated.
The letter was copied to all on the URHTA associates list.
1995 March 20: Scott Wexler is now comparing the smoking ban with "the return of prohibition."
1995 Apr 25: Wexler submits a proposal to the Tobacco Institute to "establish a uniform statewide standard (preemption) for the regulation of smoking" and copies this to Philip Morris lobbyists Tina Walls and Sharon Portnoy .
He proposes a 12-week campaign with a budget of nearly half-a-million dollars to get the State legislature to pass a milder law on smoking which would over-ride the New York City ordinances.
Sharon Portnoy then sent to Tina Walls some compromise language on the preemption bill, saying "the leadership of both houses has signed off on the concept. We are now attempting to get them to speak to each other and sign off on the actual legislation." Walls replied, "overall the bill is not what PM would normally support, but I know the restaurant assoc[iation] believes it is the best they can get."
This 'pre-emptive' bill [S5414] was introduced on June 12. Despite Philip Morris's strategy plan which described Governor Pataki as "openly solicitous of PM" and Senate Majority Leader Bruno as "supportive of PM" the bill fails to pass in an "extremely contentious legislative session  where business bills of many kinds were not acted on.." [perhaps Governor Pataki was too "openly solicitous ..."]
[This document also lists the generous "Gifts" paid by Philip Morris to various organizations and individuals to help grease the wheels. On Sept 15 1995, $10,000 was given to the Hungarian-American Chamber of Commerce, which then passed it on to Governor Pataki and his entourage in the form of sponsored junkets to Hungary, by way of Rome.] [See Timeline]
1995 May: The Tobacco Institute has funded the URHTA to employ Price Waterhouse to conduct a high-loaded, carefully selected, survey of 200-odd restaurant owners and generate stories about the [claimed] disastrous effect of the smoking ban on business.
Here they have prepared answers for Scott Wexler and a Price Waterhouse spokesman if grilled by the media during their press conference.
- Price Waterhouse was to deny/evade Tobacco Institute involvement, and
- Scott Wexler was to claim that the "TI is but one member of 11,000." and that "This survey was sponsored by my membership..."
Philip Morris intended to put out its own press-release on this matter but may have thought twice about it. [There is no record of its release]
1995 Oct 13: Wexler is now acting as a full-blown propagandist for the tobacco lobby. For no apparent reason, he puts out, under URHTA letterhead, a press release entitled "Don't follow New York City to Disaster with Smoking Ban" which essentially says: "Run for your life. The sky is falling".
1996 Feb 28: The Tobacco Institute are drafting speeches for Wexler to make — apparently associated with promotion of the pseudo-polling of Price Waterhouse.
1996 Feb 29: /E An associated Press Release on the Price Waterhous poll suggests that Wexler's URHTA now only has 5,000 members State-wide (previous claim was 11,000) and only 500 in the five boroughs of New York City... so perhaps business had gone down! ... even though everyone else said it was rising??
1996 Mar: The tobacco industry is now pushing its pre-emptive "Accommodation" program, which aims to retain the status quo, through promoting a courtesy-when-smoking campaign.
He is also associated with the tobacco industry's efforts to have prominent pro-smoking message displayed outside restaurants ... large "Non-Smokers and Smokers Welcome" signs. This pamphlet claims that since the smoking bill, the food service industry has
Wexler is quote as saying:
- registered $18.2 billion loss in sales over two years.
- 67% of NYC full-service restaurants have registered a decline in sales
- average revenue loss per restaurant was 19.9%
- 2,779 restaurant jobs were lost in the city, while those outside the smoking-ban zone added 5% in employment.
"The economic evidence linking the restaurant smoking ban to the loss of restaurant jobs in New York City is compelling. Both economic facts and economic logic come together to place the blame for the city's restaurant job loss squarely at the feet of the smoking ban."
Yet the following paragraph in the pamphlet reveals that half the restaurateur surveyed by Price Waterhouse did not think the smoking ban had been bad for business.
[These facts are difficult to reconcile!]
Postscript Over the next few years Philip Morris and the Tobacco Institute, with URHTA's help, attempted to promote legislation through the New York State Assembly and Senate which would have 'pre-empted' the City's public-smoking ordinances. Scott Wexler made the initial approach, but Philip Morris took over the running and made various attempts to lobby support and bribe legislators.
[This document also lists the generous "Gifts" paid by Philip Morris to various organizations and individuals to help grease the wheels. On Sept 15 1995, $10,000 was given to the Hungarian-American Chamber of Commerce, which then passed it on to Governor Pataki in the form of a sponsored junket to Hungary, by way of Rome.]
See Anti-smoking group's NYC timeline:
See Tobacco Industry NYC timeline: