For many years, Big Tobacco and the anti-smoking movement were at opposite extremes on the spectrum of honesty and forthrightness versus deception and deviousness. But just less than a year ago, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (TFK) helped blur this distinction by running what I think was a very deceptive and disingenuous campaign to promote the FDA tobacco legislation.
The campaign was highlighted by a communication to TFK constituents stating that Big Tobacco was opposing the FDA legislation and was mounting a huge campaign to defeat it. This was, in my opinion, quite clearly an intentional failure to disclose that the largest member of Big Tobacco by far - Philip Morris - was in fact supporting the legislation and using its massive lobbying and public relations resources to promote the bill's passage.
By neglecting to mention this critical fact, and by not being forthright about Philip Morris' support for the bill, I believe that TFK misled its constituents into believing that this was simply an issue of public health vs. Big Tobacco: that everyone in public health supported the bill and that everyone in Big Tobacco opposed it. But this was not the truth. In fact, the Campaign was well aware that Philip Morris supported the bill and that many tobacco control advocates believed that it represented a huge bailout for Big Tobacco that would harm the public's health. This "nuance" was not revealed to TFK's constituents in the above communication.
There is no question that Philip Morris - by far the dominant company of Big Tobacco - with approximately half of domestic cigarette market share, was and remains a vehement supporter of the legislation. In contrast to the impression that TFK gave its constituents, Philip Morris expressed significant disappointment that the 2004 FDA tobacco legislation failed, and has made the re-introduced bills its key legislative priority 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."
The magnitude of Philip Morris' interest in, and support for the FDA legislation and the extent of its lobbying and public relations efforts to secure passage of legislation favorable to the company was recently exposed in an analysis of internal tobacco company documents.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids accused "Big Tobacco" of lying about the meaning of FDA regulation, yet The Rest of the Story has revealed that TFK itself has been misleading and deceiving its constituents and policy makers about the very nature of this legislation in the most basic and critical way.
I think that honesty and integrity are our most prized possession in the tobacco control movement (or at least they should be), and that once we lose those, we no longer have public credibility and respect and can no longer distinguish ourselves so clearly from Big Tobacco and its deceptive techniques. In the interest of helping to restore honesty and integrity to the tobacco control movement, I am calling on the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to admit and apologize for its deceptive and misleading campaign to promote the FDA tobacco legislation.
The Rest of the Story Challenge
With just under 80 days remaining until the one-year anniversary of TFK's misleading communication to its constituents about how Big Tobacco was mounting a massive campaign trying to stop the FDA legislation, I have started the clock counting (see upper right of sidebar).
It is my hope that before one full year has passed from its deceptive grassroots campaign, TFK will admit and apologize for its mistakes. And that is my challenge to TFK, with the firm belief that the organization is indeed interested in the integrity of the tobacco control movement as one of the most sacred attributes of the movement that should not be tampered with.
The countdown clock will remain until an appropriate admission and apology by TFK is issued.
UPDATE (June 23, 2005; 10:20 am): The TFK web site still implies that Big Tobacco is fighting the FDA's efforts to regulate tobacco, even though the largest company of Big Tobacco is actually pushing vigorously for such legislation. A special report, entitled "Tobacco vs. the FDA" is described as outlining "the Food and Drug Administration’s tireless efforts to regulate tobacco as a drug and the industry’s escalating legal challenges, which continue to block the federal government from protecting American children." I think it is misleading to state that the tobacco industry is continuing to block the federal government from regulating tobacco, since Philip Morris is pushing the federal government to do so. By calling the report "Tobacco vs. the FDA," I think TFK is implying to the public that Big Tobacco is against FDA regulation. This is misleading, and I think furthers my argument that a correction is warranted.