Smithsonian and top institutions under fire for accepting tobacco money

Some US museums continue taking tobacco donations even as others are rejecting funds from big pharma amid the opioid crisis

Researchers are questioning why some American museums accept tobacco donations, even as some review donation policies in light of the UK National Portrait Gallery recently rejecting a gift from the Sackler family, owner of Purdue Pharma who are at the center of Americas devastating opioid crisis.


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One of Americas most venerated institutions, the Smithsonian museum, which oversees the US National Portrait Gallery, has accepted donations from the US maker of Marlboro cigarettes as recently as 2017.

The Smithsonian is not alone. In 2018, Altria donated $3.6m to arts and culture institutions, a spokesman told the Guardian. The Newseum and the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC and New YorksAlvin Ailey American Dance Theater all accepted Altria funding that year, according to the latest available company documents.

In 2014, the Landmark Theater in Richmond, Virginia, also struck a sponsorship deal with Altria, and was renamed the Altria Theater in exchange for $10m from the tobacco company.

Dr Michael Siegel, a professor of health sciences at Boston University and an expert in tobacco marketing, said he was shocked to even hear the Smithsonian, among others, continued to accept donations from tobacco companies.

Im surprised to hear in 2017, or possibly now, that there are major institutions that are taking tobacco money. Its a surprise to me, said Siegel. If that was more widely known, there would be quite an outcry from people in the anti-tobacco movement.

When organizations accept money from big tobacco, theyre essentially allowing themselves to be used by pawns in the marketing strategy of big tobacco companies, said Siegel. He continued that accepting donations from tobacco companies was extremely egregious at this point in that game.

Last week, the UKs National Portrait Gallery refused a donation of more than 1m from a Sackler family foundation, citing concerns about Americas opioid crisis. The Tate gallery group followed, and within days the Sackler Trust announced it would suspend giving in while roughly 2,000 opioid-related lawsuits move through courts.

The Smithsonian Institution Castle. One of the largest arts institutions to continue to accept tobacco industry funding is the Smithsonian Institution. Photograph: Getty Images


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Every day in the US, more than 130 people die of opioid-related drug overdoses, roughly 47,000 a year. The Sackler familys blockbuster drug OxyContin, a powerful painkiller aggressively marketed by Purdue, is blamed with touching off the crisis.

By comparison, tobacco-related illness kills 1,300 people daily in the US, or 480,000 annually, accounting for roughly one in five deaths each year, according to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse.

Health authorities in the US are also concerned about an epidemic of teen vaping. Altria invested $12.8bn in Juul Labs, the dominant vaping company which is outperforming Wall Streets expectations. An analyst said last week the company is on track to become the Marlboro of e-vapor. Philip Morris International is also pushing vaping, and struck a deal with the youth-oriented Vice Media to promote its IQOS vape device.

All companies donate to museums for similar reasons, said Elizabeth Smith, a professor of behavioral sciences at University of California San Franciscos Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. They want this social acceptance, and they can have this party and hang out with the movers and shakers who might make policy that is good for them.

Its just companies like tobacco companies or Purdue Pharma, in a sense, have even more need of it because they have a lot more reputation management work to do, because their inherent reputations are so poor, she said.

One of the largest arts institutions to accept tobacco industry funding is the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, including incidentally, the Smithsonians Sackler Gallery. The Smithsonian oversees the US National Portrait Gallery.

The Smithsonian told the Guardian private donations were critical to the institution, and that Altrias support dates back to 1983. Virtually all major exhibitions are privately funded, said a spokeswoman, Linda St Thomas.

The company is a regular donor to Smithsonian exhibits in various museums and most recently contributed $500,000 to the National Museum of African American History and Culture for a WWI exhibit opening in September, St Thomas said. Altria is a corporate member of the Smithsonian which requires a minimum of $25,000 per year.

The unveiling of Barack and Michelle Obamas portraits at the Smithsonians National Portrait Gallery on 12 February 2018 in Washington DC. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A spokesman for Altria said: Altria and its operating companies have a six-decade history of corporate sponsorships to support artistic institutions to increase community access to high-quality arts and cultural experiences.

The Whitney Museum historically enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Philip Morris. The museum operated a satellite gallery at Philip Morris headquarters on Fifth Avenue in New York for 25 years. The branch shut down in 2007 when Philip Morris split into two companies, and Altria moved to Virginia.

In 2009, the company donated 150 works to the museum, including for example, the pop art painting Tobacco Rhoda by Mel Ramos, which pictures a naked woman sitting on a pack of Philip Morris cigarettes, a self-portrait by Philip Guston in which he is smoking, and an Andy Warhol lithograph of Elizabeth Taylor.


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The Whitney did not respond to a Guardian inquiry about Altria.

American museums and arts institutions have had a long historical relationship with Philip Morris. The New York Sun reported in 2007 that institutions which enjoyed the tobacco companys support included famous names such as the Brooklyn Academy of Music , the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and the New Museum of Contemporary Art.

Philip Morris also provided millions to explicitly sponsor art exhibits between the 1960s and late 1990s. The Metropolitan Museum of Arts 1983 exhibit The Vatican Collection: Papacy and Art was paid for with a $3m grant from Philip Morris, and its 1993 exhibit of Henri Matisses work received a little less than half of its $5m budget from Philip Morris.

Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

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