Times: Tisch Family's Newport Cigarettes Helped Kill My Mother

I was at Brown as a student at the same time that Tom Tisch was a student there. I held a Tisch Fellowship in the Religious Studies Department. Tisch has recently funded an endowed religion chair at Bard. Tom is now the Brown Chancellor.

Sorry Tommy but this is not business. This is personal. You and your family helped kill my mother.

My mother smoked Newports for years - the flagship cigarette brand of the Lorillard company - a business that made your Tisch family a fortune.

You see when I was 12 my mother would send me out on Friday to buy the challahs for Shabbat and a pack of Newports for her. She was hooked by your cigarette companies when she was a young woman. They gave her free sample cigarettes in front of Hunter College. They got her addicted, made fortunes from her and her friends, and killed her.

Now the Tisch family doesn't have the courage or decency to confess to the evil that they have fostered.

Tommy you realize that you bought your apartment at 740 Park Avenue with the money you made by killing my mother.

You can "help" as many causes as you wish, serve as chancellor of Brown, endow Jewish causes, build hospitals, you have the list of all the "good" things you have done.

Keep working at atoning for your sins. Perhaps on your balance sheet you believe you have offset the bad with the good.

But no matter how hard you work at it, this is personal, not business. You cannot offset or escape that you and your Newports helped to kill my mother.

In 2000 she died as a result of years of poisoning from the smoke she inhaled from those Newports. She died an agonizing death after years of suffering and six months of critical illnesses on a respirator in Mt. Sinai Hospital.

This is personal.
Profits in Hand, Wealthy Family Cuts Tobacco Tie

Forty years ago, the New York business magnates Laurence A. Tisch and Preston Robert Tisch capitalized on growing public health concerns over smoking by buying a cigarette company at a bargain price.

It proved a good investment — even if the Tisch name has sometimes been linked to smoking’s health hazards, as when an airplane once trailed a banner over Long Island beaches reading “Larry Tisch sells cancer sticks.”

The tobacco company’s flagship Newport brand flourished, becoming the leading menthol cigarette and No. 2 among all brands, in large part because Newports are enormously popular among black smokers.

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.”

From an initial investment of about $450 million to buy Lorillard in 1968, Loews has reaped big rewards. “Loews’s overall profit, excluding dividends, approximates $10 billion,” said Erik A. Bloomquist, a financial analyst for JPMorgan Securities.

Mr. Tisch has said that the cigarette business is simply no longer a focus of the Loews conglomerate, which has holdings in insurance, natural gas pipelines and offshore drilling, as well as its original focus, hotels.

Even before Tuesday’s spinoff Loews has been gradually reducing its stake in Lorillard. Since 2002, shares in Lorillard were available to the public through a tracking stock called Carolina Group.

And there is ample evidence of the Tisch family’s discomfort with tobacco. Joseph A. Califano Jr., the former federal health secretary under President Jimmy Carter, said he had known the Tisch family for years and that decades ago, “Larry Tisch was talking about finding a way to get rid of Lorillard.”

“I don’t think he was ever comfortable in that business,” Mr. Califano said. “I think the whole family was uncomfortable.”

In the spinoff, James and the other two Tisch family members on the Loews board, whose combined holdings amounted to about 6 percent of the stock in Loews, retained no stakes in the tobacco company or plan to hold executive or board positions in it. Other members of the family, who before the spinoff controlled about 17 percent of shares in Loews, did not disclose whether they would retain those shares or swap them for Lorillard stock.

The new shares rose more than 6 percent Tuesday, closing at $76.63.

Some analysts said it was unlikely that other family members had tendered their shares of Loews in exchange for Lorillard stock. “The clear message that they’re sending is, ‘We’re moving out of tobacco and we’re moving into energy,’ ” said Benjamin J. Bornstein, a partner at Omega Advisors, a $5.3 billion hedge fund that holds Loews stock.

Some public health experts say Newport, which rank near the top in smoking-machine tests of nicotine yield, may be among the unhealthiest varieties of cigarettes. That disturbs African-American antismoking advocates, particularly because documents disclosed in tobacco lawsuits reveal that Lorillard pursued a marketing strategy aimed at black smokers. By the company’s own tally, just over half of Newport customers are black.

There has been a backlash in recent weeks over news that the tobacco legislation pending in Congress contains a special protection for menthol cigarettes. A black antismoking group withdrew its support from the legislation, citing the bill’s special exemption of menthol from a list of banned flavorings.

Ten former federal health officials, including seven secretaries of health, wrote Congress last week demanding that the bill specifically ban menthol.

One of the letter signers, Mr. Califano, said in an interview that Newport was a particular scourge because evidence suggested that menthol, by masking the harsh taste of tobacco, makes cigarettes easier to start. And the cigarette’s high nicotine yield also may make it more difficult to stop smoking, he said, although some tobacco researchers caution that the amount of nicotine taken in by smokers varies widely from person to person.

“It’s sort of a pincer attack on the smoker,” Mr. Califano said. “We’ll make it easier for you to smoke, and we’ll put more of the addicting substance in it to make sure you’re hooked.” Mr. Califano now runs the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

In a statement this week, Michael W. Robinson, a spokesman for Lorillard, said the nicotine ratings of Newport “fall within the same range” as those of other popular full flavor brands.

Mr. Robinson released data showing that nicotine yield in Newport 80, the most popular brand, had declined to 2.21 milligrams in 2006 from 2.55 milligrams in 2004, based on reports submitted to the tobacco program at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

In reports submitted to the Federal Trade Commission, which uses a different testing method, Mr. Robinson said, Newport delivered the same nicotine as equivalent styles of Kool, Salem, Camel, and Camel menthol.

Laurence Tisch died in 2003 and his brother, Preston Robert, died in 2005. A spokeswoman for Loews said that the three Tisch children on the board — besides James, who is Laurence’s son, they are James’s brother Andrew and their cousin Jonathan Tisch, who are co-chairmen — would not be interviewed for this article.

The spokeswoman, Candace Leeds, said the company could not talk because of the pending transaction. To New Yorkers, the Tisch family may be best known for philanthropic works that are evident throughout the city — including a children’s zoo at Central Park to a hospital at New York University to galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Tisches’ civic reach extends beyond New York, as well. When Senator Edward M. Kennedy had an operation for brain cancer last week, he chose a surgeon at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University, located about an hour from Lorillard’s tobacco operations in Greensboro, N.C.

Other prominent members of the younger Tisch generation include Thomas J. Tisch, who runs the Four Partners investment fund and is chancellor of Brown University. Daniel J. Tisch is on the board of trustees of New York University and runs another family-affiliated investment fund, Mentor Partners. Steven E. Tisch, a producer credited with films including “Forrest Gump” and “The Pursuit of Happyness,” is also chairman of the New York Giants.

Jonathan Tisch, who is also the chairman of Loews Hotels and is a former chairman of New York City’s tourism bureau, is active in the Democrat Party. He is also a benefactor of Tufts University, which named its college of citizenship and public service after him.

But tobacco has long been associated with the Tisch name, too, in ways not always flattering.

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 airplane banner incident occurred in 1993 after a Newport advertising plane repeatedly flew over Long Island beaches, including the Fire Island home of the financial writer Andrew Tobias, a supporter of antismoking causes. Mr. Tobias recently recalled that he had hired another plane to tail it, towing the banner reading “Larry Tisch sells cancer sticks.”

“There haven’t been any planes on those beaches since,” Mr. Tobias said.


John D. Enright said...

Rabbi, you have my complete support in this, and I am truly saddened by the harm inflicted on your mother which lead to her death. I am also saddened by the harm suffered by you and all of her friends and family who miss your mother; I recognize that these words can do little to console you.

I noticed in the article that the Tisch family merely spun the tobacco unit off into an independent entity. That is unfortunate since it remains able to continue killing people that the tobacco merchants ensnared. Moreover, now that it is free from competing with other Tisch family interests for management and capital, it may unfortunately become a more lethal killing machine.

If the Tisch family wanted to atone for their evil, they should have simply crushed their tobacco unit out of existence. Instead, they will either continue to profit from the new entity's sales, or though the sale of its shares of stock.

Just so you know, my father - who was my Best Man when I was married - died prematurely as a direct result of emphazema due to smoking. He suffered horribly for more than ten years. Likewise, my Uncle died under similar circumstance after a long illness caused by smoking. Believe me, I know your pain, and I'm sure you know mine.

Tzvee Zahavy said...

sorry for your losses - additional casualties of the evil and greed of the purveyors of death

John D. Enright said...

anonymous said: "everyone who smokes chooses to do so." Not so. Its been well established in many formerly secret tobacco industry memoranda that there was a concerted effort to hide the nature of the harmful effects of smoking while steadily increasing the percentage of the deadly and addictive agent of nicotine. A more proper analogy is giving a loaded gun to a child and telling him that it's harmless. When the gun goes off and the child dies, who's responsible? The child who did not know the dangers of a loaded gun with no means to learn about it or the knowledgeable monster who introduced the gun to the child in the first place?

Tzvee Zahavy said...

sorry but i deleted that "everyone chooses" anonymous posting. it is obscene to say that to me and to you as we still mourn our losses from the deliberate murder of our loved ones by the cigarette pushers. it is just not worth the debate. my mother was given addictive substances and convinced to try them. after she was hooked she was told that there is no harm in them for many many years. that is the direct and deliberate murder of a human being by a gang of greedy pushers. to suggest otherwise is obscene and i delete all obscene comments

John D. Enright said...

Thank you, and I agree that it was obscene.

Anonymous said...

I hope Professor Neusner turns down the Chair. It would make for a powerful news story, the kind that would be a slap to Tisch.

John D. Enright said...

bryce said: "I hope Professor Neusner turns down the Chair. It would make for a powerful news story, the kind that would be a slap to Tisch."

Yes, it would. Nevertheless, I'm sure that Rabbi Neusner will make the right decision and that he will have a legitimate and reasoned basis for his decision either way. Even tainted funds can be employed for good uses. That's the idea which underscores American drug forfeiture laws.

Tzvee Zahavy said...

The JTA blogger has taken this up, see, http://blogs.jta.org/philanthropy/2008/06/12/51/no-smoking/

John D. Enright said...

Thanks for the heads-up, Rabbi. Particularly aggregious is this part: "When Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, asked Mr. Tisch whether he knew that cigarettes caused cancer, Mr. [Andrew] Tisch answered, 'I do not believe that.'”

By 1994 it was WELL documented of the relationship between tobacco use in all of its forms and cancer, as well as Emphazema, COPD, and a host of other respiratory and heart problems.

Tisch's denial of the link is like catching a kid with his hand in the cookie jar. When asked if he is stealing cookies, the kid says no.

Richard said...

I've forwarded your powerful blog post to a student activist at Brown who is none to happy with Tisch's extreme right-wing agenda (not to mention the family's deeply checkered connection with a cancer-inducing product).

Richard said...

Your entry has reminded me of Horace Kornegay - the recently departed North Carolina prodigal son whose life was steeped in lies, hypocracy, and deceit. Horace's many accomplishments include amoung other things the founding of the once famous Tobacco Institute - a university of sorts, which like Auschwtiz and Dachau, produced graduates specializing in death, and one liners along the lines of "Smoking will set you free." His organization was the spearhead and lobbying arm of the US cigarette industry.

Horace Kornegay took moral relativism to new heights with his feigned outrage - "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" comment. In a moment of true hypocrisy, he have up smoking his Viceroy Lights after he retired - apparently for health reasons.

Ron said...

Not sure if I already posted this, but here goes:

Speaking as an ex-smoker, it is not at all obscene to say "everyone who smokes, chooses
to do so."

That is the same as saying "everyone who abuses alcohol, chooses to do so." or "everyone who gambles away his life savings, chooses to do so".

With love, support, willpower, and a great deal of prayer, a person can walk away from this degenerate indulgence despite having been deceived in the matter by the drug pushers (I call the tobacco sellers drug pushers because it is a drug after all, and they are pushing it on people).

Furthermore, I don't care who a person is, or what he's been told to the contrary, every smoker on the planet knows damn well that the things aren't good for you. You don't need a PhD or congressional testimony to figure out that inhaling smoke from 2 packs a day is NOT a Good Thing.

And yes, I've also lost loved ones to this. And yes, I think it should be legally discouraged, and yes, I am against people using it. And yes, I think social pressure should be used to encourage families like Tisch to break away from it, which is what they seem to be trying to do.

Personally, I only hope to G-d that I stopped in time.

While you would be correct in saying that the Tisch family has been guilty of ליפני עור, and of indirectly causing harm to the community, it is very dishonest to say they "murdered" your mother, as this destroys the actual meaning of the word "murder". It also puts blame that the Tisch family does not deserve for what happened.

Do you honestly think if there weren't Newports then your mother would have stopped smoking? I don't know if you've ever smoked cigarettes, but it seems clear to me that she would have simply shrugged her shoulders and switched brands.

Frankly, if you want to hold anyone accountable, aside from the smoker himself, you ought to hold the small shop owners accountable more than others. After all, if everyone within a 20 mile radius ceased to sell cigarettes, she may very well have quit. But that isn't a popular thing to say, because small shop owners don't have tons of money, so no one is jealous of them.

Finally, I think that a lot of this "blame the rich fat cats of the tobacco industry" is a great deal of nonsense. It will not stop a single person from smoking. It seems to me to be total self indulgence on the part of those critics who do so. What will work, is Love, Prayer, Hope. People need to be taught to look after their health, both physical and emotional and spiritual. There are communities that are so messed up in this regard that entire families literally do not know the basics of proper nutrition.

A general sense of Hope, needs to be cultivated among the youth of society. Something which does not exist in our incredibly degraded and brutal culture.

Tzvee Zahavy said...

Newport and other brands of cigarettes kill 400,000 Americans every year. On April 27 Lorillard proudly announced, "Based on Lorillard's proprietary retail shipment data, Newport continued to increase its retail market share during the first quarter of 2009 by 0.2 share points from 9.9% in the first quarter of 2008 to 10.1% in the first quarter of 2009." Proportionally then, Newport kills 40,000 Americans each year.

Ron said...

I do not agree with the manner in which you absolve smokers of their responsibility.

Ultimately the choice is theirs.

Tzvee Zahavy said...

Nonsense. The manufacturers sent their representatives to distribute free samples of cigarettes to the young women at the Hunter High School and Hunter College. That is where they hooked my mother who became addicted to smoking cigarettes for the remainder of her life. Those cigarettes caused her to become ill with profound vascular disease, heart disease and emphysema eventually leading her to her painful death.

Anonymous said...

What the FDA did not tell the media or the public, and what the American Lung Association failed to express alarm over, is the fact that nicotine replacement products themselves have been found to have detectable levels of tobacco-specific eGo T