Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wall Street Journal Editorial Provides Blistering Review of Proposed FDA Tobacco Legislation

An editorial in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal blasts the proposed FDA tobacco legislation being supported by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, American Medical Association, and many other health groups, calling it the "Marlboro Preservation Act" and arguing that it would help Big Tobacco rather than hurt the cigarette companies and protect the public's health.

The editorial points out that Wall Street investment companies have hailed the legislation as a winning proposition for Big Tobacco. Morgan Stanley noted that the legislation would provide a strong defense for the tobacco companies in litigation, giving them virtual immunity. Citigroup went so far as to conclude that the legislation "would actually help the major cigarette manufacturers since it would entrench their position further allowing them to maintain market share or increase it."

The editorial also notes that by asking the FDA to reduce nicotine levels, the public's health may actually be harmed, since smokers will inhale more deeply or smoke more in order to get the same amount of nicotine: "An FDA diktat to reduce nicotine in cigarettes could have the perverse effect of inducing the 40 million or so current smokers to light up more often to get their nicotine 'high.' That might mean more cigarette sales and more deaths."

"These low-nicotine cigarettes would be similar to 'light' cigarettes, which health groups have long argued and the courts have ruled are no safer than high-nicotine smokes. 'The FDA would be essentially repeating the fraud the tobacco companies were recently found guilty of,' says Michael Siegel of the Boston University school of public health."

The editorial suggests that the health groups are actually assisting Big Tobacco by promoting this legislation and notes that this would not be the first time that policy makers and health advocates "assisted Big Tobacco in the name of opposing it," citing the Master Settlement Agreement as another example.

The piece concludes: "The best way to reduce smoking deaths isn't more regulation with its unintended consequences. The better policy is to make sure that smokers bear the full risk and cost of their unhealthy habit -- through adjusted insurance premiums -- and by encouraging the use of safer tobacco products. The Kennedy-Waxman bill deserves to be called the Marlboro Preservation Act."

The Rest of the Story

This is truly a brilliant editorial. Add this to Dr. Elizabeth Whelan's outstanding op-ed in the Washington Times and the FDA chief's rejection of the idea of regulating tobacco products. All three not only find substantial flaws in the proposed regulatory approach, but they also conclude that the legislation may do more harm than good. In other words, rather than saving countless lives as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has claimed, the legislation could well result in increased deaths.

Clearly, it is time that the health groups supporting the bill get the message that they are making a huge mistake. It is hard to believe that this legislation - which is being soundly picked apart from all sides - still has the support of most major anti-smoking and public health groups.

Why? How could this have happened?

The answer is, I believe, quite simple. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids succeeded in its massive deception of the health groups. It appears that the Campaign was not forthright in making it clear to the other health groups that the bill contained numerous provisions that were inserted strictly to protect the financial interests of the nation's largest cigarette company. It appears that the Campaign failed to explain that the bill resulted essentially from a negotiation between itself and Philip Morris. At one point, the Campaign was not even being forthright that the legislation was supported by Philip Morris.

The result of all of this, I believe, is that many of the health groups really didn't have much of an idea of the specifics of the bill and an understanding of what it would actually do, and not do. The information put out by the Campaign has been full of rhetoric and grandiose promises, but devoid of any specific information about the details of the regulatory scheme or any clear scientific or policy justification for the proposal. The propaganda campaign also failed to present a balanced picture of the legislation and the scientific, policy, and political issues involved, resulting in what I suspect is the deception of many health groups into supporting a piece of legislation that they might well not have supported had they been informed about all of these details, rather than merely fed with propaganda. And I suspect that a number of these groups are going to regret having stood on the side of Philip Morris now.

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