Monday, October 10, 2005

Youth Unknowingly Helping Philip Morris Do Its Bidding; Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' Campaign of Deception is Alive and Well

An anti-smoking non-profit organization, apparently being run by youths, has launched a new web site. The organization, called IGNITE (Igniting a Nation through Action) declares its primary purpose to be "Fighting Big Tobacco."

According to the web site: "Ignite is working to get Big Tobacco out of politics. In a country where our government increasingly revolves around well-funded special interests, public health and the common good are often left behind. To replace the 1200 American smokers that die every day, the tobacco industry spends billions of dollars marketing to young people. This gives youth the unique moral authority to fight back and defend our generation. Ignite realizes that engaging young people in the political process is the only way that we will triumph over Big Tobacco. It's about a generation standing up, being counted, and demanding better policy from our elected officials. Sounds like a hefty endeavor, we know, but we have the power to do it, and we're going to prove it."

"Ignite empowers the youth of America to hold the tobacco industry accountable at every level by directing public officials to act responsibly."

The Rest of the Story

At first glance I thought this looked like a great new organization of youths who, on their sole initiative, wanted to do something to help advance public health interests instead of those of Big Tobacco.

But upon close inspection, I found that the group is not doing this at all.

Because there's a huge problem with the group and its campaign. Namely: it seems to have been so influenced by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' deceptive propaganda campaign that it is itself now running a very deceptive propaganda campaign.

I don't blame the youths for this. I suspect that they are doing this unknowingly. I suspect that they have been misled by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids' deception.

Here are some examples of Ignite's deceptive and inaccurate campaign:

First, an action alert directs its members to write a letter to Senator Charles Grassley, criticizing him for voting against FDA tobacco legislation supported by Philip Morris in 2004, and suggesting that his acceptance of campaign contributions from Philip Morris, among other companies, led to his vote against this bill:

The letter states: "As you know, recently as a conferee, you effectively managed to kill legislation that would have given the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products. You voted just as the tobacco industry wanted you to vote. Since 1997 you have taken more than $30,000 in campaign contributions from big tobacco companies. These contributions come from Altria (parent company of Philip Morris USA and maker of Marlboro cigarettes)... As a Senator you are entitled to vote as you see fit. However, to accept tobacco company contributions and simultaneously vote to support tobacco industry interests, presents a sense of impropriety."

It is impossible to argue that this letter is anything but grossly deceptive and inaccurate. Clearly, Senator Grassley did not vote just as the tobacco industry wanted him to vote. The truth is that Philip Morris vigorously supported the 2004 FDA tobacco legislation. In fact, Philip Morris has stated that this legislation is its top legislative priority.

The letter's assertion that it is contributions from Philip Morris that played a role in his vote is preposterous. After all, Philip Morris supported (and continues to support) this legislation. If Philip Morris' campaign contributions were influencing his vote on this issue, then he clearly would have voted FOR the bill, not against it. Philip Morris wanted this bill badly.

Second, a similar letter to Congressman Bill Thomas states: "As you know, recently as Chairman of the conference committee that gave a tobacco buyout, you effectively managed to kill legislation that would have given the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products. You voted just as the tobacco industry wanted you to vote."

Again, this is deceptive at best, and just plain wrong at worst. Congressman Thomas certainly did not vote the way Philip Morris (the largest and most dominant company within Big Tobacco) wanted him to vote. They supported the legislation which Thomas killed.

Third, the Ignite group has a feature called "Big Tobacco's Friend of the Month." On one of its recent pages, it claims that: "Recently, Senator Grassley could have won a major victory for public health. The Senator had the chance to grant the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate tobacco products. However, as Chairman of the conference committee that addressed this issue, Senator Grassley led the charge to kill such legislation. Essentially, he protected the interests of Big Tobacco."

This claim is very deceptive if not just wrong. By voting against the bill, Grassley was not protecting the interests of Big Tobacco. He was actually voting against the clearly expressed interests of the largest company of Big Tobacco - Philip Morris. To be sure, Grassley was no friend to Philip Morris by killing its bill, and so it is disingenuous to state that he was a friend to Big Tobacco.

I want to emphasize that I am not blaming the youths for this deceptive, misleading, and entirely inappropriate public health campaign. While I do think it is irresponsible for any public health group to run a deceptive campaign that misleads its constituents, it is not actually clear to me that these youths really understand the facts behind what is going on. In fact, I think it's pretty clear that they do not.

For example, do these youths really understand and appreciate the fact that Philip Morris highly desires the enactment of the precise FDA tobacco legislation that these youths are supporting? What would their reaction be if they found out that they are working hard to help Philip Morris achieve its key legislative priority for this Congressional session?

I don't know this for a fact, but it certainly seems like this organization is under the strong influence of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. In fact, it hardly appears that the leaders of the group think for themselves. They seem to have accepted the TFK propaganda hook, line, and sinker.

If the youths aren't being directly influenced by TFK, then they apparently are being influenced indirectly, through TFK's deceptive propaganda campaign, which as I have highlighted, has included a deliberate attempt to hide the fact that Philip Morris desperately wants the FDA tobacco legislation to be enacted.

The rest of the story reveals that what at first glance looks like a very admirable and respectable non-profit public health group run by youths is, in fact, running a deceptive, misleading, inaccurate, and completely irresponsible political campaign. They are, presumably unknowingly, helping Philip Morris to achieve its key legislative priority for this Congressional session, while at the same time trying to make it seem like the FDA tobacco legislation is not something that Philip Morris supports and intimating that those who killed this legislation last year did so, in part, because of campaign contributions from Philip Morris - a preposterous and clearly inaccurate claim.

But the fault is not their own. They apparently have fallen victim to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' deceptive propaganda campaign, which has been trying to hide the fact that Philip Morris is vigorously behind the effort to enact the FDA tobacco legislation presently before Congress.

Now, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has not only defiled itself by its refusal to be forthright and tell the truth and harmed the reputation and credibility of the entire anti-tobacco movement - it has also resulted in essentially the misuse of youths in order to help it achieve its own misguided objectives.


in memory of all who die from tobacco, while others get rich from it said...

While respect your comments and views of Ignite. I have to disagree with you as a youth who has been in the fight against big tobacco for four years and one that lost a love one to tobacco.
It’s funny that we live in a country which has a government that will regulate something as small as a Tick-Tack which to my knowledge has not killed anyone, but we as a country and the people we elect into office has let tobacco, a product which kills 1200 people a day go with out regulation. Why do we allow legalize murder? If an organization powered by youth passion to fight an industry who has taken our parents, fiends, and family members’ lives is a bad and has no merit then we as a society must look at ourselves. If organizations like Ignite and Tobacco Free Kids did not exist imagine what the public knowledge about the danger would be if all the information we know of came from the industry itself. How cynical would that be that the people who kill for a living are the ones telling you how to stop using their product.
The point I think you are missing here by your comments is that we, as you say are “these kids,” implying we know nothing and should be “kids” and go along and play nicely with our videogames and barbies. It might be a better perspective if you view us not as “kids” but members of society who care enough to talk and raise awareness about something that everyday kill thousands of people. We care to talk about it and are not afraid that our government who elect into office and who’s job is to protect us has not done so. It would be bind to say that when an elected official takes as much as 30,000 dollars from big tobacco that they are not influence or slightly influence by money. If the world was not run by the greed of people Mr. Siegel, this would be a perfect world, where there would be no need for your job as a researcher in tobacco control. We would be all better. But reality is that we don’t live in that world.
I hope youth across the country are not discourage by your worlds to stop the killing of love ones, but be empower by it to show “adults” like you we have no agenda. All we have is hope for change.

benpal said...

"In fact, it hardly appears that the leaders of the group think for themselves." Reminds me of China, where kids parade and sing the glory of the government because they don't know better or don't have a choice. Reminds me of the 3rd Reich, when children where brainwashed to hate Jews.
A national compaign for hatred always needs a target, in this case it's Big Tobacco. Bash them and milk them. Smokers smoked long before the existance of tobacco companies. I knew 50 years ago already that tobacco was bad for the health. Who ever sais he/she was lured into smoking by Big Tobacco must be naive.
So what good is it to continue this hatred, other than to get money?

Michael Siegel said...

The comments above illustrate just how shameful it is that these youths are being misled and misused in this way. I do applaud them and their initiative and passion and find nothing wrong with what they are doing. The blame lies not with the youths, but with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which has apparently been so effective in its campaign of deception that the outstanding youths who are part of this outstanding group don't even realize that they are actually on teh side of the nation's largest cigarette company.

Ryan, 27yrs said...

Someone should get off his soap box. Take it for what it is. Sound like you have something against Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. it doesn't look like thses kids are geting rich by doing this or anyone at the Campign.

penhappy said...

I can not understand why you insist on picking on Campaign, but I do disagree with you on what Ignite is doing. It does not take rocket science for kids, or teens, or peers, or youth, whatever you want to call them to figure out something is wrong with how we deal with tobacco. It is not FDA regulated, when everything else we put in our mouth or on our body is. You have also consistantly said that Campaign is in bed with Philip Morris, because Philip Morris supports this legislation. Yeah for the record, but not behind closed doors where they throw their money. How much time have you spent at the Capitol or watching politics.

I know these kids. They didn't have Campaign write their stuff, they did it. Having 100's of youth advocacy groups is nice, but until they unite and work together they will never be able to accomplish what they need to. These youth advocates have been fighting big tobacco for years. They have seen it work in their states, they have watched how it affects their friends and many of them in fact probuably all of them has loss someone to tobacco. And they are working to unite these groups into one big National group. That takes vision.

All I can say is you have fallen into a trap that was sprung by Philip Morris to support FDA regulation that could benefit them in a monopoly if it passed but to work behind the scenes to defeat it, because what regulation is going to continue to let something as deadly an addictive as this product is, to continue as it has.

It did not take us long after discovery to figure that this was going to make someone alot of money, because back in Christopher Columbus time, once you tried it you had to have it. It is what cause slavery in the United States. It was the first cash crop here. It also killed alot of Native Americans. Because it takes alot of land to grow it. And alot of money was paid to keep it off the FDA just as alcohol was.

So anyone with half a brain can figure out it is better to join them then fight them when you want to defeat them, and that is exactly what Philip Morris did. They did a good job, because ever since they did you have been attacking Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and putting down these kids who have been fighting to change the future. All you have to do is to look at their documents and how they dealt with other issues in the past to see this is their MO.

I am a tobacco control advocate, currently unemployed and still working to fight tobacco in my state. I am not making money at this. Any money I have made I used to support our state's youth group.

I also know that no matter how good a law is when you initially write it and get it authored by a legilator, during the process the language of that law is going to change, and you loose control of what some of it will do. That is also true with FDA. Even if we wrote the perfect law, it would never pass in that condition. Corporations and lobbyist will change their position to change the law to benefit them, or to make them look better in the public eye, or to discredit those who initiated it. It is done all the time, with all kinds of corporations. The dot coms have been spending alot to prevent regulation of the e world. Do you really think Philip Morris wants regulation? Give me a break, have you lived in your oppositional world so long that you can no longer see through the smoke screen?

Well I have said my piece. I will continue to help kids fight big tobacco and scratch my head wondering how someone as educated as you can be so misguided.

Anonymous said...

I am disturbed by the condescending tone of this post -- we're talking about American teenagers here, right? Probably one of the most skeptical groups in our society, questioning everything and everybody. Your disdain for Tobacco Free Kids does not allow you to even entertain the possibility that perhaps they actually care about this issue and have done their homework.

Your verbose posts aside, you seem to belive that because PM supports FDA legislation that ipso facto it should be opposed. So in your view is what constitutes a strategic approach to look at what PM supports and then support the opposite of that? From reading this blog that is certainly how it appears.

John R. Polito said...

Who sponsored or initiated this youth group and why is its identity being kept hidden? Was there seed money involved? Who was its brainchild? Aren't these tobacco industry tactics?

The group is soliciting donations. Don't contributors have a right to know whose founding agenda they are supporting and what alliances, if any, are at work?

Although we should all support holding politicians fully accountable for accepting tobacco industry campaign contributions, and it would be great to see youth spearhead a national movement, it is right to be concerned that this new group is apparently so misguided that it has started off by misrepresenting the facts associated with Philip Morris' position on FDA legislation.

We can only hope it was their own youthful error and does not reflect the ethics of hidden adults.

But then again, could they be sitting on inside information? Could it be that PenHappy is right and Philip Morris played many in tobacco control like some fine fiddle? I simply don't know.

Talk about putting square pegs in round holes. What I do believe is that the either the states or the Federal Trade Commission should be given authority to regulate all non-medical uses of nicotine, not the FDA.

Michael Siegel said...

Thanks for your comments. Unfortunately, however, there is simply no plausibility behind your theory that Philip Morris is faking its support for the FDA regulations. First of all, the company's own documents show that achieving FDA regulation of tobacco products is a critical company goal. And the documents demonstrate the strategies that Philip Morris planned to take to accomplish this. They also show the specific provisions that Philip Morris wanted in the legislation. In addition, Philip Morris was at the table in the negotiations that led to this legislation - the same table that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids was at. Moreover, the fact that Philip Morris has split from the rest of the industry on this is further evidence that their support for it is real. While you are right that they might lie publicly, you'd also have to be right that they lie in their own documents in order for your theory to be correct. I simply don't believe it. And believe me, having been in tobacco control for 21 years, it takes a lot for me to conclude that Philip Morris is being sincere about anything. I did not come to this conclusion lightly.

Thanks, too, for your comments. Let me reiterate that I am not criticizing the youths and young adults who put this campaign together. I have only praise for their concern, their initiative, and their passion. What I am criticizing is the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' campaign of deception, which has apparently succeeded in making these young people believe that the legislation they are supporting is opposed by Philip Morris. That's simply incorrect.

You state: "you seem to believe that because PM supports FDA legislation that ipso facto it should be opposed." Actually, I don't believe that. I think that Philip Morris' support should be a warning signal that something is not right, but a careful analysis is still required. I have done such a careful analysis (resulting in a 36-page paper on the issue) and based on that analysis (and not on Philip Morris' support for the bill alone), I have concluded that it is not in the best interests of the public's health.

But I want to emphasize that I am not being critical here of TFK's or Ignite's support of the FDA legislation. They are free to support any legislation they want to. What I am criticizing is TFK's unethical behavior - namely: the deception, the trickery, and the misleading and inaccurate public communications to try to advance their political goals.

They are free to support the FDA legislation if they wish and they are also free to claim that it is the best thing since sliced bread, but what they cannot ethically do is distort the truth and wage a campaign to convince the public that Big Tobacco (including Philip Morris) is opposed to the legislation and that Philip Morris' campaign contributions led legislators to vote against this legislation because Philip Morris opposed the bill.

Lying, misleading people, and distorting the truth are simply wrong. That is unethical behavior. And that's what I'm criticizing.

That's all I'm saying here - it's wrong to not tell the truth.

Frankly, I'm finding it disturbing that anti-smoking advocates are resorting to attacking me rather than dealing with the actual lack of ethics going on in the movement.

Michael Siegel said...

One other point I should make, partly in response to Penhappy's comments:

Even if it is true that TFK believes that the conspiracy theory is correct and Philip Morris is faking its support for the FDA legislation, it still doesn't take away the ethical issue of what I consider to be misleading the American public and public health constituents.

If TFK actually believes this conspiracy theory, then their public communications should acknowledge that Philip Morris publicly supports the bill, but that TFK is of the opinion that Philip Morris is faking it and that their support is a big hoax. You still can't ethically tell the public that Philip Morris is opposed to the bill when in fact the company is on record, both externally and internally, as supporting the legislation.

Actually, I have no problem with the idea of TFK communicating to the public that they are of the opinion that PM's support of the bill is just a huge hoax. But they would have to make it clear that this is their opinion, and provide enough information for the public and their constituents to then make a judgment of their own.

So bottom line is: I don't think TFK's actions are ethical even if they are acting under the belief that Philip Morris is putting on a huge hoax.

Bryan said...

TFK Tells all its youth about PM support for FDA and actknolege the fact hat PM could have an alternative agenda. They let the youth make their own judgments. I kow bacuse I was one of the youth who have work with TFK on FDA issues. TFK makes this statement known to the public all the time. You should do more research before making comments.

Anonymous said...

Did you forget what happened when big tobacco was put on trial? Is it me or did all the executive raised their right hand and said under oath that tobacco was not addictive. We should have believed them then right? Just my though.

Michael Siegel said...

I think your reasoning is flawed. By your reasoning, R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard Tobacco must really support the FDA legislation because they must be lying about opposing it.

The reason why we should not have believed the tobacco executives testifying that nicotine is not addictive is not that tobacco companies always lie, but that we KNOW that nicotine is addictive.

Even assuming you are right and tobacco companies always lie, then Ignite and TFK should certainly inform the public that they are supporting legislation that R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard support.

Anonymous said...

sounds like someone is sleeping in the same bed as big tobacco. big tobacco has done a good job at deception and even an educated person like yourself can't even see it.

i think i'll jumb on this to. YES TO BIG TOBACCO AND THEIR SUPPORT FOR FDA!!! kill my little brother next please as you suppoer FDA, we don't really get along right now.

1200 people killed everyday, 12 billion plus in marketing to youth, BIG TOBACCO supports FDA. PRICELESS.

Anonymous said...

This just shows the lengths to which the antis will go to to twist the truth and manipulate young people. The parallel is the Nazi party and the young pioneers.