A former 18-year member of Congress who was a longtime friend of the tobacco industry while in office has become a paid consultant and registered lobbyist for tobacco giantReynolds American.
Steve Buyer, a Republican congressman from Indiana from 1993 to 2011, had been the beneficiary of over $100,000 in Reynoldsdonations over the years and pushed the company's legislative goals.
In 2009, he gave a famously colorful speechon the House floor endorsing smokeless tobacco: "You could have smoked that lettuce and you still end up with the same problems. You could cut the grass in your yard, dry it, and roll it up in a cigarette, and smoke it — and you're still going to have a lot of problems," he said. "It is the smoke that kills, not the nicotine."
Buyer revealed the new job for Reynolds American in little-noticed testimony Sept.19 before the Indiana General Assembly's Health Finance Commission. A federal disclosurefiling shows that Buyer and his former chief of staff, Mike Copher, registered to lobby for a Reynolds American subsidiary called RAI Services as of the beginning of September. (Buyer became a lobbyist immediately after leaving Congress in 2011, with a health care company his first client.)
At the Indiana hearing, Buyer said he is working as "an advocate of Harm Reduction Strategies" for Reynolds American, according to his prepared remarks.
"To be an agent of change you can do it from the outside and attack tobacco manufacturers like many anti-tobacco organizations do or you can do it from the inside," he said. "I have chosen to be an agent of change from the inside."
Buyer argued that the public is being "misinformed by the public health community about risks presented by tobacco in its various forms." He disputed statements by the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that smokeless tobacco — which include chewing tobacco and snuff — is not a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes. The CDC says smokeless tobacco products "can cause cancer, oral health problems, and nicotine addiction."
Messages to Buyer's lobbying firm, where Copher is now a partner, were not returned. Reynolds American declined to comment.
In the face of declining U.S. cigarette consumption rates, Reynolds American has beenaggressivelymarketing smokeless tobacco products such as its Grizzly and Kodiak snuff lines.
Buyer has long been an advocate of smokeless tobacco and an ally of Reynolds American.
The company gave $132,500 overall to Buyer's campaign committee, political action committee, and private foundation between 1997 and 2009, public filings show. More than $80,000 of that came Buyer's way in 2008-9 when proposed stricter tobacco regulations were before Congress and had to make it through the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, on which Buyer sat.