Tuesday, April 26, 2005

APHA Decides to Help Philip Morris Achieve Key Legislative Priority

The American Public Health Association (APHA) announced in its newsletter released today that it is working to help ensure the passage of Philip Morris' key legislative priority for the 2005 Congressional session: the FDA tobacco bill. The APHA states that the legislation, introduced in both houses of Congress in March, would "allow FDA to take action on many fronts, such as regulating tar, nicotine and other tobacco product components; promoting cessation to reduce disease risk; and requiring manufacturers to release research on the health effects of tobacco product use."

The Rest of the Story

In its 2004 annual report, Philip Morris revealed its own legislative priorities for the 2005 Congressional session: "Although PM USA has been increasingly successful in pursuing its societal alignment initiatives, regrettably, Congressional legislation providing for regulation of the tobacco industry by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was not passed in 2004. Although this was a significant disappointment, obtaining FDA regulation of the tobacco industry remains a key priority."

It is unclear why the nation's leading public health membership organization has decided to make Philip Morris' key legislative goal for the 2005 its own goal as well.

At very least, one would think that an organization with as much public health policy influence as APHA would, given the fact that it is about to work to help achieve a key Philip Morris initiative, attempt to conduct a careful and comprehensive analysis of the legislation, consulting with individuals within its membership who have conducted detailed analyses of this policy proposal. Instead, APHA has jumped onto a fast-moving train that I am afraid is bound for a public health disaster.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that one would expect APHA to provide a full accounting of the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed legislation, especially since its members are naturally going to wonder how supporting a Philip Morris priority bill could possibly be in the best interests of the public's health. However, APHA reveals only that the bill will regulate tar, nicotine, and other tobacco constituents, promote cessation to reduce disease risk, and require manufacturers to release health effects research.

In terms of the regulation of tar, nicotine, and other constituents, APHA gives no indication how FDA regulation would produce a substantially safer cigarette. The organization also fails to reveal that the legislation explicitly prevents FDA from eliminating nicotine or banning an entire class of existing cigarettes, provisions that will give the tobacco industry the ability to block almost any meaningful regulation of tobacco consituents that would substantively change the way the cigarette is made.

In terms of promoting cessation, APHA gives no indication how FDA regulation would lead adult smokers to quit smoking. The organization also fails to reveal that by putting a virtual FDA stamp of approval on cigarettes, the legislation may well undermine current tobacco control efforts and could be expected to actually increase cigarette consumption.

In terms of releasing research on the health effects of tobacco, APHA gives no indication how this research would in any way promote the public's health. What more information beyond the fact that cigarettes are deadly and kill over 400,000 people each year is necessary to motivate actions to reduce tobacco use?

APHA should be ashamed to be walking shoulder to shoulder with Philip Morris through Congress, helping the nation's chief tobacco company to achieve its key legislative priority. But it should be even more ashamed for failing to reveal the truth behind the legislation, hiding from the public the fact that it is vigorously supported by Philip Morris, and not informing its membership of the critical loopholes in the legislation which protect the profits and political and legal interests of Philip Morris.


Anonymous said...

Because PM for its own reasons says it is committed to an FDA bill that it knows will never pass a Republican dominated Congress, then ipso facto any public health group which supports that legislation is a tool of the tobacco industry. With such trenchant analysis as this coming from someone who claims to have public health as his priority, it is no wonder that tobacco remains unregulated and the public health community pathetically splintered and turned against itself.

Michael Siegel said...

I think that is a very insightful, fair, and accurate comment. This is why the actions of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids are so disturbing to me. By helping Philip Morris do its bidding, they have put the public health community in a position where we either have to join along with Philip Morris or remain committed to our principles - which, frankly, leaves little middle ground. It's important to realize that it is the Campaign which put the public health movement in this terrible predicament by negotiating the bill with Philip Morris and then trying to force it down the throats of the rest of the movement, without even being forthcoming about how the bill was negotiated and who was supporting it.

Anonymous said...

Clearly sarcasm is lost on you so I'll be more direct -- based on your reasoning, if Philip Morris had come out and opposed the same piece of legislation then the public health community would therefore be obligated to support it. Since PM knows a bill giving the FDA authority to regulate cigarettes will never pass a Congress and Administration they have bought and paid for, there is no downside (and a huge PR upside) in backing the legislation.

To put it another way, -- if PM truly wanted this to pass then don't you think it would have? What is the point of them showering millions of dolars on Congress and the Repblican party if they can't get their legislation passed?

I am afraid that your disdain for the public health groups (some of which is deserved) blinds you to what is going on here.

Michael Siegel said...

I welcome your comments because for the first time, I am actually being challenged here with a serious and meaningful argument. If you are correct that Philip Morris is bluffing, and let us stipulate for the sake of argument that you are, then my premise that Philip Morris' support of this bill is a reason why public health groups should oppose it is, I agree, destroyed. Under that situation, the key would be calling their bluff.

The problem is that I am basing my arguments not only on who is supporting the bill, but also based on a detailed analysis of the bill's provisions and what they would do. So if I'm wrong on the first count, I also must be wrong on the second. And that's where none of the public health groups have so far been able to make any argument that directly counters any of my opinions as to why the bill is extremely weak and will ultimately be detrimental for the public's health.

I accept your skepticism about Philip Morris' public play. But do you think the substance of the bill is actually beneficial for public health, given the specific limitations I have pointed out?

Bill Godshall said...

Anonymous fails to provide any evidence to substantiate his/her assertion that PM must be bluffing about its support for the FDA tobacco legislation since the legislation hasn't been enacted by Congress.

It could just as easily be argued (but again without any evidence) that Philip Morris will give even larger contributions to leaders of Congress and the White House as long as the FDA legislation isn't enacted.

Many large contributors to the White House and leaders of Congress are lobbying for many different pieces of legislation that haven't been enacted by Congress.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but now that Bill Godshall is involved in this discussion this blog reeks even more of people with an enormous axe to grind with Myers and his cronies at TFK. How can we possibly take either of you seriously when you assert that despite the fact that PM is the single largest contributor to the Republican Party that soemhow it is unable to move its agenda through Congress, esp. with the ever-powerful and nefarious TFK at its side?

Really, you are pathetic and this blog is pathetic. The settlement battle happened 7 years ago -- grow up and get over it. They say some of the best social movements eventually turn on themselves -- you two are exhibit A of that.