Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Hypocrisy and Doublespeak: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Attacks Tobacco Industry for Lobbying for Public Health Legislation

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has attacked the tobacco industry for making a huge investment in lobbying Congress for its interests, chief of which is the FDA legislation that the Campaign is itself supporting.

In its press release yesterday, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (TFK) attacked the tobacco industry for donating more than $1.1 million in federal political contributions so far in the 2005-2006 election cycle. According to TFK's report, the tobacco industry spent more than $23 million to lobby Congress last year.

In decrying Big Tobacco's lobbying efforts, TFK stated: "The tobacco companies are continuing their decades-long effort to purchase political influence with campaign contributions. Members of Congress are still taking millions of dollars from the tobacco industry and failing to take action to protect kids, despite the fact that the tobacco industry spends $15.15 billion a year marketing their products, nearly one quarter of high school kids smoke and more than 400,000 Americans die every year from tobacco use."

The press release concludes that: "With over $600,000 already donated to candidates this year, the tobacco interests are hoping to continue to see federal policies that favor their bottom line over the public's health."

The Rest of the Story

There's just one problem here: The majority of the money that Big Tobacco is spending to lobby Congress for legislation that it seeks is going to promote an agenda that includes as a priority passage of a bill that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is itself lobbying for, and which the Campaign has called an important piece of public health legislation that will "protect kids and save lives."

After all, TFK's own data demonstrate that the overwhelming majority of Big Tobacco contributions to lobby Congress on federal legislative issues is coming from Altria/Philip Morris. During the data period presented in the TFK report, Philip Morris' contributions of $12.4 million dwarfed the amount contributed by the next highest donor - R.J. Reynolds - which was only at $5.4 million.

Thus, what TFK is basically attacking here are the huge contributions that Philip Morris is currently making to lobby Congress in support of its legislative agenda.

And what is at the top of Philip Morris' legislative agenda? Clearly, it is passage of the FDA legislation supported by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Philip Morris, the nation's largest tobacco company, supports the very same FDA legislation that TFK is lobbying for, is actively lobbying for its passage, and has told its shareholders that the defeat of last year's FDA legislation was "a significant disappointment" and that passage of this year's legislation is "a key priority."

Other than the FDA legislation, there really isn't a heck of a lot else going on in Congress regarding tobacco regulatory issues. So it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the major purpose of Big Tobacco lobbying of Congress during the 2004 and 2005 Congressional sessions is to influence the FDA legislation.

So what TFK is basically doing here is attacking Philip Morris for lobbying for a piece of legislation that TFK itself supports (and is itself lobbying for).

Perhaps TFK should attack itself for lobbying for the same piece of legislation!

Frankly, I find the TFK press release's conclusion that "the tobacco interests are hoping to continue to see federal policies that favor their bottom line over the public's health" to be disingenuous (as well as just plain inconsistent with its own public statements).

According to TFK's own arguments, it is simply not true that the "tobacco interests" are hoping to continue to see federal policies that favor their bottom line over the public's health. Because if TFK is correct that the FDA legislation will "protect kids and save lives," then the largest tobacco interest of them all (Philip Morris) is actually hoping to see a policy that will protect the public's health and protect kids and save lives and it is using the power of its lobbying resources to help achieve that goal.

If TFK had any sincerity at all, it should be praising Philip Morris for lobbying for the passage of legislation that is going to protect kids and save lives. How can it possibly attack Philip Morris for lobbying for legislation that TFK itself claims is in the best interests of the public's health rather than in the best interests of the tobacco companies? And how can it possibly claim that the tobacco interests (namely, Philip Morris since it is the dominant tobacco interest) are using these contributions to try to trample on the public's health?

You can't have it both ways. You can't claim that the FDA legislation that Philip Morris is lobbying for is going to protect kids and save lives and then attack Philip Morris for lobbying for that legislation. And to boot, you can't go on to claim that Philip Morris' lobbying efforts are designed to promote its own interests over the public's health.

This is doublespeak at its very worst. And it is the ultimate in hypocrisy by an anti-smoking group.

In my 21 years in public health and in the tobacco control movement, I have never seen such insincerity on the part of an anti-smoking organization.


Wiel said...

It's always interesting to compare the donations to the US Elections per industry (tobacco/health). Opensecrets.org reveals that Big Pharmaceutical always has outweighted Big Tobacco when comparing the amount of donations.

I extracted two tables from the aforementioned site to one page:

It's easy to see that BP is quite a bigger spender than BT.

Dr. Steve Hansen said...

It appears that there is a lack of insight related to the impetus for Altria's stance on FDA, its ad campaign, and its admissions of culpability past. If all of these don't undergo a marked change after the eventual supreme court decision in the DoJ suit, I'll eat my stethoscope. Cheers,SH

Michael Siegel said...

Steve -
I don't doubt that there is some truth to your contention that Altria is using its anti-smoking ads and admissions of culpability past as part of an attempt to improve its public image, partly to affect the DOJ case.

However, I don't believe that Altria's support for the FDA legislation is anything other than sincere, and I don't think it has anything to do with the DOJ case. I think the legislation would help create essentially a monopoly for Philip Morris because it would essentially freeze the existing market and make it virtually impossible for the other companies to compete.

If anything, it would allow Philip Morris to expand its market dominance because that company is the only one which could take advantage of the golden opportunity to market reduced risk products with immunity.

Anonymous said...

Yes, by all means let's encourage more competition in the tobacco industry. That could help drive down prices and make this great product available to even more people.