Smithsonian and Other Cultural Institutions Under Fire For Taking Tobacco Money

As recently as last year, many renowned museums were still accepting tobacco donations.

Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History and Culture Architectural Photrography (Alan Karchmer/NMAAHC)
Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History and Culture Architectural Photrography (Alan Karchmer/NMAAHC)
By Chase Hill / March 29, 2019 1:15 pm

As recently as 2017, our nation’s pre-eminent museum network—the Smithsonian Institution—had been accepting donations from tobacco companies, including the U.S. manufacturer of Marlboro cigarettes.

In 2018, Altria, a company that has invested billions in the Juul vape pens, also donated money to organizations like The Newseum, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Dr. Michael Siegal, who is an expert on the tobacco industry’s marketing strategies and is also a professor of health sciences at Boston University, was shocked to hear about the donations.

“I’m surprised to hear in 2017, or possibly now, that there are major institutions that are taking tobacco money,” Siegel told The Guardian. “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, they’re essentially allowing themselves to be used by pawns in the marketing strategy of big tobacco companies,” Siegel said, adding that it was “extremely egregious at this point in that game” for institutes to continue to accept the money.

This move comes on the heels of increased scrutiny on the philanthropic benefactors of cultural institutions here in the U.S. and abroad. Last week in the U.K., for instance, the British National Portrait Gallery refused to accept funds from the Sackler family, who are at the center of a massive opioid crisis lawsuit here in the U.S. And last week, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City also announced that it would no longer accept gifts or donations from the Sackler family, who had been given $9 million to the museum between 1995 and 2015.

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