Lobbying Hires

Boehner joins board of tobacco giant Reynolds American

Greg Nash

Former Speaker John Bohener (R-Ohio) has joined the board of directors at the tobacco company Reynolds American.

He will also be on the board’s corporate governance, nominating and sustainability committee, the company said.

{mosads}It is the first corporate gig Boehner, a longtime smoker, has taken since leaving Capitol Hill last October.

“RAI is striving to transform the tobacco industry through innovative strategies that include speeding the decline in tobacco use among young people and reducing the harm caused by smoking,” a spokesman for the former lawmaker wrote to The Hill in an email. “These are objectives Speaker Boehner supports and looks forward to helping RAI advance through his service on the board.”

Boehner has mostly stayed out of the spotlight since resigning from Congress last October. He has primarily been traveling the country to fundraise for Republicans and doing paid speeches.

He was first elected to Congress in 1990, and became Speaker in 2011. He resigned from the job last year amid a revolt from conservatives in the House.

In one of his first major controversies in Congress, Boehner in 1996 was caught handing out campaign contributions from tobacco lobbyists on the House floor, right before a vote on federal subsidies for the industry. The industry kept its subsidies.

Boehner later said that he regretted handing out the checks, though it was not against House rules at the time.

During his 2014 reelection campaign, the tobacco company Altria and its employees were among Boehner’s top 10 donors, giving $43,500 to his coffers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Boehner’s chain-smoking ways were well-known on Capitol Hill. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who was elected Speaker after Boehner, joked that he would have to “detoxify” the Speaker’s office before moving in.

“You know when you ever go to a hotel room or get a rental car that has been smoked in? That’s what this smells like,” Ryan said last November, referring to the Speaker’s suite during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Reynolds American on Thursday said it had also brought on Jean-Marc Levy, the executive-in-residence at the IMD Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland. The board now has 14 members.

“Both John and Jean-Marc bring valuable new experience and insights to the board in a dynamic environment,” Thomas Wajnert, the board’s chairman, said in a statement. “As RAI gains momentum in its strategy to transform the tobacco industry, we welcome their fresh perspectives on our businesses and the rapidly evolving environments in which the RAI companies compete.” 

Matthew Myers, the president for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, released a statement on Thursday slamming the announcement.

“It is truly absurd that tobacco giant Reynolds American and former House Speaker John Boehner, who was elected to Reynolds’ board of directors today, would express a commitment to ‘speeding the decline in tobacco use among young people.’ Their records show the exact opposite,” Myers said. “Reynolds’ announcement pairs the tobacco company with the most egregious record of marketing to kids and a politician with a long record of fighting policies to reduce youth tobacco use.”

He points to a Wall Street Journal article from Wednesday that detailed the company’s plan to boost sales: handing out coupons for $1 packs of cigarettes and featuring a “Newport Pleasure Lounge” at music festivals that feature air conditioning, games and cheap smokes.

“Reynolds knows that reducing cigarette prices attracts price-sensitive youth, and the tobacco industry has a long history of using concerts to market to young people,” Myers said.

The company is also the creator of Joe Camel, a cartoon used to advertise the company’s Camel-brand cigarettes. He has not graced advertisements since 1997, when the federal government ruled that the cartoon images violated rules about advertising cigarettes to children.


— This post was updated at 5:36 p.m.



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