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Scott Wexler was Executive Director of the United Restaurant, Hotel, Tavern Association (URHTA) in New York State who fought a long and vigorous war against a series of New York City Council imposed smoking bans.
Wexler's war against smoking bans in New York City restaurants was not conducted alone. Very early when minor ordinances threatened, he enlisted the support of both the Tobacco Institute (which was based in Washington DC) and Philip Morris (New York based) to both fund and fight.
The United Restaurant Hotel Tavern Association (URHTA) and the two tobacco organizations became allies in a war which went on for many years. The URHTA was in decline and had only moderate funding, but the battle was generously supported by tobacco interests since they saw New York City as a test-case for defeating public smoking ordinances by local authorities.
New York was also a test-bed for another ploy, that of pre-emptive State legislation. When pro-business groups (including Governor George Pataki ) took control of the State in November 1994, the lobbyists for Philip Morris poured funds into various bank-accounts, spent a fortune on long-lunches and alcohol-fueled dinners, and generally promoted their own mild version of public-smoking legislation through the Halls of Albany, intending the State legislation to override the City smoking-ban ordinances.
It didn't turn out the way they anticipated, but pre-emptive legislation of this kind became the stock-in-trade for tobacco lobbyists from this time on.
Scott Wexler and his association/s (he had a number) were close ally of tobacco in all these maneuvers. His favored technique was to raise funds from the tobacco companies to pay a prominent polling companies to survey a carefully selected list of restaurant-owners. They would then produce to order a doomsaying report, saying in effect that the sky was falling on the food-service business and that thousands of its employees would lose their jobs. He would then tout this story to the media.
Some people did lose their jobs, of course, and some restaurants and bars lost some of their business. But other bars and restaurants increased their business and employed more staff. So, as Mayor Koch and Guliani had both predicted, after a series of relatively minor reshuffles in the highly-competitive world of New York, what emerged was essentially business-as-usual in bars and restaurants, but without the constant annoyance of second-hand smoke.
1986 March 21: Mayor Koch of the New York City Council proposed some minor smoking restrictions and appointed a Special Commission (headed by Joseph Califano , former Secretary of Department of Health Education & Welfare under President Carter) to review public comments and to prepare an ordinance.
The tobacco industry reacted by planning 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.
1986 Apr 11: Scott Wexler, as Executive Director of the United Restaurant Hotel Tavern Association (URHTA) wrote to Richard Scanlan at the Tobacco Institute saying:
I have recently reviewed the proposed no-smoking bill being pushed by Mayor Koch in New York City 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.
The Tobacco Institute and Philip Morris (which is based in New York) come to their aid with funding and a mutual-assistance pact. This involves mobilizing tobacco industry staff members and customers to write letters to newspapers, politicians and the like, and the organization of polls which exaggerate the risk of bar and restaurant job losses, etc.
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. However Wexler's association with the tobacco industry continued because the threat of anti-smoking action remained.
1988 May 20: The URHTA invites the Tobacco Institute to participate in an 'industry panel discussion".
1990 Jan 11: The URHTA issues Philip Morris with invitations to a cocktail reception for a "Fund to Protect Tavern Owners and Restaurateurs from Hidden Prosecution" at $100 per ticket. [The funds were supposedly for someone caught serving liquor to an underage customer]
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 saying what a great job they were doing.
Wexler registers the URHTA with its 2000 member/outlets as a co-sponsor and send letterhead paper via Federal Express to the Institute so that it can send out press releases on the URHTA's behalf.
Draft press releases:
1990 Dec 11: Wexler and the URHTA are now issuing a press release (along with the convenience stores and vending machine operators) promoting the Tobacco Industry's "Its the Law" program which aims to convince legislators and the public that the tobacco industry isn't interested in recruiting teenage smokers.
1993 Oct 25: Wexler's organization is now virtually affiliated with the Tobacco Institute's coalition against any restrictions on smoking and alcohol. He is lobbying US government agencies to counter substance-abuse restrictions, and he copies his correspondence to the Tobacco Institute.
He claims to represent the view of 20,000 members even though many of his members are now opposed to the restrictions, provided they are applied universally.
The Vallone Bill
1994 Mar 16: The 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 Tobacco timeline:
1994 June 6: The City Council held a hearing on the Act [now known as 232A]. The tobacco companies bussed 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]
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 detailing the claimed adverse economic impact of the bill and called on New Yorkers to contact the Mayor and their Council member. In addition, a 60-second radio spot was produced featuring the same message as the "Backwards" ads and was run on major New York City stations.
The restaurateurs then testified along with the Tobacco Institute and the National Smokers Alliance (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 was also calling on 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 favor smoke-free restaurants. [See Timeline]
1994 Sep 30: /E An Advocate Institute Report on "Front Groups" questioned the legitimacy of the URHTA and [incorrectly] said that the United Restaurant, Hotel, Tavern Association was created to fight the proposed bill in New York City to ban smoking in public places. [It was founded in 1934]. The Report said:
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."
[A distortion of the facts; the office was in Albany]
However, New York City-based SmokeFree Educational Services reported 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 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!
[Source: The New York Times, 26 Sept1994]
1994 Nov: Anti-smoking Governor Mario Cuomo was defeated in the election by the tobacco- and business-friendly Republican George Pataki who had campaigned on pro-business policies.
1994 Dec 21: The City Council approved the Smoke-Free Air Act by 36 to 8. Philip Morris continued the media blitz. However, in defiance of the company, Mayor Guiliani signed the bill at a public hearing.
1995 Jan 19: Mayor Giuliani made a show of publicly signing the bill, thumbing his nose at Philip Morris, saying that
"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 one of the advertisements that the URHTA ran on behalf of the industry.
The battle rejoined.
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 sent to Tina Walls the proposed compromise language on a 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 describing 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.." [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 Feb 10: In reply to a letter from Scott Wexler, the office of the Mayor of New York replies:
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 listed 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 the 'URHTA associates' list.
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.
This document is a series of prepared answers for Scott Wexler and a Price Waterhouse spokesman if they are 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..."
1995 June: The URHTA newsletter contains this gem: It seems that Governor Pataki's ...
Office of Regulatory Reform is looking closely at the laws, rules and practices governing the beverage alcohol industry. They are seeking ways to reform the regulation of our industry to make it more "business friendly".
[If Governor Pataki had made regulation even more "business friendly" he would have risked been charged with incest.]
Our Executive Director, Scott Wexler, and Legal Counsel, Jim Linnan, recently met with representatives of the governor's office to suggest a number of specific actions that could be taken to accomplish this objective. The Office of Regulatory Reform is expected to announce their recommendations in the near future.
Please call or fax Governor Pataki as soon as possible. Let's make sure the governor knows how important this legislation is to our members.
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: "The sky is falling".
1996 Feb 28: The Tobacco Institute is drafting speeches for Wexler. This one appears to be associated with the promotion of the 'Chicken-little' polling done by Price Waterhouse.
1996 Mar: The tobacco industry is now pushing its "Accommodation" program. This is a ploy which aims to retain the status quo through promoting a courtesy-when-smoking campaign — an individual form of pre-emption. Wexler is associated with the industry's efforts to have prominent tobacco branding on restaurants through having them display large "Non-Smokers and Smokers Welcome" signs.
This "Accommodation" pamphlet claims that since the smoking-ban bill, the city's 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 restaurateurs surveyed by Price Waterhouse did not think the smoking ban had been bad for business. [These facts are rather difficult to reconcile!]
1996 /E: Wexler is now listed as Executive Director of the Empire State Restaurant & Tavern Association (which had the same address, phone and fax numbers as before). Both organisations remained active.
He is still putting out special-interest-commissioned surveys (this one by Dun and Bradstreet ) showing that New York restaurants are losing a fortune ... which no one believes. He also has the polling firm of Penn & Schoen Associates finding, by a 3-to-1 margin, that people want his Albany pre-emptive legislation.
1997 Jan 7: Report for Philip Morris, says:
Without question, Wexler and the Empire State Restaurant & Tavern Association are the Program's strongest allies in New York. Whatever opportunity is presented to the association, they make the most of it. Wexler is very outspoken about the issue and will readily talk to the media.
1997 Nov: /E he appears to have added the title "President of the New York State Hospitality Industry Association " to his list. Philip Morris are circulating articles attacking the "Nico-Nazis" through the International Hotel-Restaurant-Casino (HORECA) organization.
Postscript There are many more documents, but all are remarkably similar. Wexler was one of the tobacco industry's most fervent promoters, always willing to front their activities and appear on TV or in the newspapers, always consistent in complaining bitterly that the smoking bans had ruined the New York City restaurant trade.
2005 August: He was now lobbying against Massachusetts laws and questioning the value of special waivers. The Massachusetts legislature was considering a statewide ban that would put it on par with New York state:
The Capital Region members of the Albany-based Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association are reporting an average drop in business of about 20 percent, said Scott Wexler, the association's executive director. If the economy were booming, the bars might not even notice the drop, but many people are already spending less on entertainment and other discretionary purchases, he said.
"Its the straw that breaks the camel's back" he complains.