Nonprofit Chronicles

Journalism about foundations, nonprofits and their impact

Advocacy groups are almost entirely disconnected from anything that feels like a market. The people who pay their bills – foundations and individual donors – are not their customers. They typically can’t measure their effectiveness. And their “competitors,” to the degree they have any, are often their allies. The Nature Conservancy and WWF compete with one another for funding, for media attention and for employees.

There’s one more way that incentives for advocacy groups are weird: Bad news is good news, and good news is bad news. Trump’s election set off a fundraising bonanza for the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. The LGBTQ movement was confounded when the US Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.

That’s the context for my new story at Medium, posted under the headline, When the good news about smoking is bad news for anti-smoking groups. And it’s really good news! The campaign against teen smoking in the US has been enormously successful. Teen smoking is down by more than 90 percent from a decade ago. Since most smokers start young, this augurs well for future declines in adult smoking, which is also falling.

You’d expect, as a result, to hear enthusiastic cheering from organizations like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Nope. Instead of declaring victory and shutting down, they have shifted their focus from teen cigarette smoking to teen vaping.

They’ve done so despite overwhelming evidence that vaping is much safer than smoking or underage drinking, which is widespread among teens. Tobacco-Free Kids would not exist without harm, so they look for harm wherever they can find it. 

Perversely, these groups now want to ban vaping, the very thing that has helped teens avoid smoking and helped adults to quit smoking. It’s nuts.

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