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Seniors’ group CARP says it’s quitting Big Tobacco sponsorships after response from fired up members

After getting an earful from CARP members, the advocacy group for older people says it will no longer accept sponsorship from tobacco companies and is giving the money it received from Rothmans, Benson & Hedges to an unnamed charity that cares for people with smoking-related illnesses.

Move comes after members voiced ‘strong disagreement’ over tobacco sponsorship revealed by Go Public

A hand holds up a no-smoking sign against a background highlighting the initials of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons.

The Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) says it will never again work with Big Tobacco after getting an earful from angry members who read a CBC News: Go Public investigation last week.

The story featured a B.C. woman speaking out about a sponsorship deal CARP accepted from Canadian tobacco company Rothmans, Benson & Hedges (RBH).

In exchange for an undisclosed amount of money, CARP invited its members to take part in a focus group on smoking alternatives to cigarettes, such as vaping products, which RBH sells.

Angry CARP members wrote to the advocacy association — sharing their emails with Go Public — requesting that their memberships be cancelled.

  • Got a story you want investigated? Contact Erica and the Go Public team

"Suggesting vaping as an acceptable alternative to smoking is disgraceful and clearly in the interests of the tobacco industry," wrote Margaret Brady of Whitehorse, B.C.

"I was absolutely gobsmacked," wrote Margaret Dougherty of Toronto.

"Hard to imagine that nicotine is still being peddled and there are people who will partner for profit," said Donna Mayer of Ottawa, a self-described heavy smoker who says she tried vaping to help her quit, but it didn't work.

Last week, CARP posted a notice on its website regarding the Go Public story, claiming "only one complaint was received" about the focus group on smoking.

But two days ago, CARP president Rudy Buttignol sent an email to members, saying the group had heard from many members and chapter volunteers who "voiced their strong disagreement with any contact with a tobacco company."

'Message received' says CARP president

Buttignol wrote that CARP had considered that exploring alternatives to cigarettes might be valuable to members who continue to smoke, adding that he had a personal interest in whether vaping might play a role in harm reduction because his father's two-pack-a-day smoking habit led to emphysema "and his eventual death."

Still, he acknowledged that many CARP members were unhappy with the tobacco sponsorship.

"Message received," wrote Buttignol. "CARP will no longer engage with tobacco companies or related entities."

The email sent to CARP members also said the advocacy group would donate the money it received from Rothmans, Benson & Hedges to a charity that cares for people severely affected by their smoking addiction.

WATCH | Go Public looks into complaint about CARP partnering with tobacco company:

Partnership between CARP, Big Tobacco leaves senior fuming

11 days ago

Duration 2:17

A B.C. senior was surprised to find Canada’s largest advocacy association for older adults, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP), has teamed up with the world's biggest tobacco companies to convene a focus group about alternatives to cigarette smoking.

Original complainant not buying explanation

But Ellen Gould — the Powell River, B.C., woman who first raised concerns with Go Public about the advocacy group's controversial partnership — says she's not buying CARP's explanation for the focus group.

"If CARP really wanted to inform its members on whether vaping is a good way to quit smoking, they could simply have asked a public health expert with no ties to Big Tobacco to summarize the many scientific studies that have already been done," she said.

"These show that many smokers aren't successful in using vaping to quit smoking, they just end up smoking and vaping."

Several CARP members told Go Public they noticed that the mass email didn't contain an apology for taking money from a tobacco company.

"It doesn't sound like he thinks that they did anything wrong," said Brady, the woman who wrote from Whitehorse, B.C. "And that he's kind of surprised that everybody's unhappy about it."

Buttignol's recent email to CARP members also did not address what he initially said about Gould, who was so dismayed by the arrangement with RBH that she cancelled her membership.

When Go Public first asked Buttignol about her concerns, he wrote, "Shrug. We have about 250,000 members."

He went on to call Gould "woke" and asked, "Does she quit her family every time she has an argument?"

CARP members angry about president's comments

Several people sent emails to CARP and shared them with Go Public, saying Buttignol's remarks about Gould were as concerning as the group taking money from a tobacco company.

"His comments … are arrogant, disrespectful and completely inappropriate," wrote Philip Reynolds of Winnipeg.

Lot Sparham of Powell River, B.C., wrote that he guessed Buttignol's response to Gould's criticism "will likely be quoted for years in media and PR studies as one of the dumbest, most patronizing, callous and inadequate responses on record."

WATCH | A tobacco researcher offers advice about vaping:

If you don’t vape, don’t start, says tobacco expert

14 days ago

Duration 0:44

Robert Schwartz, a prominent tobacco researcher with the University of Toronto, shares three proven reasons why e-cigarettes aren’t good for non-smokers.

The email CARP sent to its members did not specify how much money RBH had given CARP for the sponsorship, and did not name the charity that would benefit.

When Go Public asked for that information, CARP's chief advocacy and education officer Bill VanGorder inadvertently cc'd Go Public in a reply email to colleagues, writing, "I strongly recommend we do NOT reply to this inquiry."

None of the questions Go Public emailed CARP were answered.


Erica Johnson

Investigative reporter

Erica Johnson is an award-winning investigative journalist. She hosted CBC's consumer program Marketplace for 15 years, investigating everything from dirty hospitals to fraudulent financial advisors. As co-host of the CBC news segment Go Public, Erica continues to expose wrongdoing and hold corporations and governments to account.

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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