Tomorrow is Kick Butts Day - a day of youth advocacy for tobacco control sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. According to its web site: "Every year on Kick Butts Day, America's youth STAND OUT...SPEAK UP...and SEIZE CONTROL in the fight against tobacco use."
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is encouraging youth groups all over the country to organize advocacy events for tomorrow. To guide the youths in their endeavors, the Campaign has provided a booklet that describes the potential activities and provides background on various tobacco issues.
It appears that events are planned for all 50 states.
The Rest of the Story
Sounds like a rather innocuous event, does it not? Youths organizing to help reduce tobacco use and to promote policies to protect the public's health.
There's just one problem. One of the issues that the Kick Butts Day organizing guide apparently is promoting is the enactment of legislation, supported by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and by Philip Morris - the nation's largest cigarette maker - to give FDA regulatory jurisdiction over tobacco products.
On page 17 of the organizing guide is a picture of a Kick Butts Day 2006 youth holding a sign saying "Why Isn't Tobacco Regulated by the FDA?" Later, on page 32, kids are urged to write to Congress to support legislation that would require tobacco companies to disclose their ingredients (in other words, to support the FDA tobacco legislation supported by Philip Morris).
Then, on page 52, youths are recruited directly to support the FDA legislation favored by Philip Morris: "Include a letter writing campaign to your Members of Congress as part of your event. Let them know you want stronger warning labels on tobacco products, and that they should give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products and require stronger warning labels. Visit tobaccofreekids.org for more information about FDA regulation of tobacco, and check page 32 for contact info for your Members of Congress."
On page 56, there is another attempt to recruit kids to support the FDA legislation being promoted by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Philip Morris: "Include a letter writing campaign to your Members of Congress as part of your event. Let them know you want them to do something to stop Big Tobacco from targeting kids with magazine ads. Ask them to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products and stop the tobacco industry from marketing to kids in magazines with high youth readership."
In other words, Kick Butts Day is largely an event that is being planned by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in such a way as to engage youth in the Campaign's efforts to lobby for passage of its pet legislation - the FDA tobacco bills that are currently pending before Congress.
These bills are vigorously supported by the nation's leading tobacco company.
With all of the literature in the Kick Butts Day organizing guide which condemns Big Tobacco, criticizes the tobacco companies for everything under the sun, and attempts to rally the nation's youth to fight Big Tobacco in every way possible, it is simply a travesty that the Campaign is trying to trick kids into supporting legislation that is actually being promoted by the nation's leading tobacco company.
And that's exactly what this is. It's trickery and deception.
Kids are not being provided with the relevant facts. Nowhere in the organizing guide does it even give kids the option of making an informed decision about what position to take on this complex policy issue. Kids are not even informed about the fact that Philip Morris supports, and deeply desires, the FDA legislation and that a number of anti-smoking advocates stand in strong opposition to the proposed legislation.
Nowhere does the Kick Butts Day organizing guide outline the many giant loopholes that have been placed in the legislation to protect the interests of Philip Morris and Big Tobacco at the expense of the public's health.
Nowhere in the Kick Butts Day guide does it explain that the FDA legislation was negotiated with Philip Morris and that it included specific provisions that the company felt were essential to achieve its goals of solidifying and expanding its market share and protecting its profits, and that important public health goals and principles were compromised in order to allow this negotiation to be successful.
I believe that it is unethical for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to misuse youths in this manner. It is unethical to engage youths in a lobbying effort without fully informing them of the issues involved so that they can make their own autonomous decision about what action is in the interests of the values for which they stand. Essentially, the Campaign is violating the public health equivalent of the principle of informed consent.
What's worse is that not only is the Campaign omitted key information, but it is essentially tricking kids into taking an action that is supporting the cause of Philip Morris. Certainly, any reasonable kid reading this propaganda is going to take away the impression that the activities outlined are supporting policies that would be opposed by Big Tobacco and that the cigarette companies do not consider to be in their best interests.
But that is not the case.
The rest of the story is that Kick Butts Day 2006 is being exploited by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. They are misusing youths in order to promote their pet legislation. They are tricking and deceiving kids in order to get them to take an action which is quite possibly not in line with the values that the kids themselves would support. They are using kids to promote their own pet policies without providing adequate information and without informed consent being achieved.
In summary, this is one of the most unethical actions I have ever observed by an anti-smoking group.
Kick Butts Day 2006 is a true disgrace.
Not for the innocent kids who will be participating in it, unaware of what they are doing. But it is a disgrace for the anti-smoking movement, which has to face up to the fact that its leading organization is misusing kids, violating basic ethical standards of public health practice, and embarrassing the whole movement through its unethical behavior.