Nonprofit Chronicles

Journalism about foundations, nonprofits and their impact

Last week, Filter, a nonprofit journalism website that covers drug policy, published my long (3,000-word) story about the Truth Initiative. Truth Initiative, which was formerly known as the American Legacy Foundation, began in 2000 as an anti-smoking group — by most accounts, a very effective one — and later evolved into a nonprofit that seeks to “inspire lives free from smoking, vaping & nicotine.” My story explains, to the best of my ability, how and why Truth Initiative broadened its mission and, arguably, took a disastrous turn in the wrong direction.

The story is unavoidably detailed and complicated, so I won’t try to summarize it here. Suffice it to say that well-respected senior scientists who left Truth Initiative told me that they are dismayed by the organization’s hard-line stance against vaping and all things nicotine.

“They have spun and ignored the science to cherry pick only information and data that supports the ideology of prohibition,” said David Abrams, a professor of public health at New York University, who previously directed the research arm of Truth Initiative.

Sally Satel, a psychiatrist and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who writes about medicine and culture, told me: “We’re not talking misinformation. We’re talking disinformation. This is willful misrepresentation of facts. It’s mind-blowing.”

Because Truth Initiative has been largely funded by proceeds of a class-action suit against the tobacco industry, the organization is, as a practical matter, accountable to no one but its self-perpetuating board. Its opposition to vaping has meant that smokers who want to quit by turning to e-cigarettes are finding it harder than ever to do so.

I dearly hope that members of the Truth board will read my story and reconsider the organization’s position. Vaping is literally a life-and-death issue.

You can read the story here.

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