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.