The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee today sent the FDA tobacco bill along to the full Senate, but not before amending it to ban the use of clove as a primary flavoring in cigarettes. Senator Kennedy had secretly inserted the language allowing clove to be used as a flavoring in between the time the bill was originally introduced and the time he presented it to the Senate HELP Committee for mark-up. The original bill banned the use of clove as a primary flavoring in cigarettes. Probably not coincidentally, this change occurred in the wake of Philip Morris spending $5 billion to start marketing clove-flavored Marlboro in Indonesia.
The Rest of the Story
Embarrassingly, while this amendment had no problem getting through the Senate Committee, as the legislators easily saw through the smokescreen that this Philip Morris protection clause was necessary to avoid violation of some imaginary trade laws that somehow interfere with the authority of the U.S. government to issue safety standards for U.S. products, the amendment was opposed by supposedly the leading anti-smoking group in the nation: the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The Campaign went as far as sending out a communication to tobacco control advocates expressing its opposition to Enzi Amendment #12, and implying that advocates should contact the Senate HELP Committee members and urge them to oppose this amendment.
As I wrote last week about Enzi Amendment #12 (which passed today): "This amendment would remove the exemption for clove as one of only two flavorings allowable (along with menthol). This simply returns the bill to its form prior to Senator Kennedy's addition of the clove exemption in order to protect the financial interests of Philip Morris, which recently began marketing clove cigarettes in Indonesia."
"There is absolutely no reason for any of the health groups to fail to support this amendment, since it simply removes a special protection for Philip Morris which has no place in the legislation, and which wasn't even in the legislation to begin with."
"The explanation that this clause is necessary to avoid violating trade treaties is completely bogus. Besides, if that were true, then it would violate trade treaties for the FDA to require any changes in cigarette ingredients, since imported cigarettes wouldn't meet such requirements."
The explanation that this clause is a poison pill is also bogus, since the majority of Senators and 195 members of the House sponsored this legislation before Senator Kennedy inserted the Philip Morris clove protection clause.
As I noted earlier, the strategy of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids seems to be as follows: Let's pretend that this is meaningful legislation, but if any changes to the bill are made that would actually make it meaningful, let's oppose those changes because if the bill actually becomes an effective tobacco control measure, it will not pass. We need this to pass as we've staked our reputation on it, so let's make sure that it doesn't develop any real teeth.
You've got to love a group that tries to keep tobacco legislation weak because if it becomes too strong (such that Philip Morris might actually oppose it), it might not pass.
Well I've got news for you. There is no law I'm aware of that says we must pass FDA authorizing legislation right now. If we truly cannot pass meaningful Congressional legislation at the current time, then maybe it's better to wait until we can, rather than force through a bill which is able to pass specifically because it is agreeable to Philip Morris because it offers the nation's leading tobacco company unprecedented special protections.
The choice is not between the FDA legislation or the status quo. The actual choice is between a piece of misguided legislation that is going to undermine 40 years of tobacco control efforts and almost assuredly, increase smoking rates and the development of legislation that would actually make a difference in substantially reducing smoking rates.
By becoming obsessed with FDA regulation of tobacco, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other health groups have diverted our attention away from what would be a truly effective national tobacco control measure: raising the federal cigarette tax and funding, for the first time, a high-exposure, national counter-advertising campaign, while supporting similar campaigns in the states.
I think it's time for tobacco control groups and advocates to go back to the drawing board and engage in a broadly inclusive discussion about a national tobacco control policy that would actually be effective: one that uses tried and true prevention methods --- a combination of cigarette tax increases with the revenues going to fund anti-smoking media campaigns. Senator Enzi has already proposed a bill that could easily serve as the foundation for such an effective policy.
There is absolutely no evidence to believe that the minor advertising restrictions in the FDA legislation - which will almost certainly be overturned by the Supreme Court anyway - will do much to reduce youth smoking. There is, however, every reason to believe that the FDA seal of approval for cigarettes will undermine the public's appreciation of the hazards of smoking, which would undoubtedly lead to increased smoking.
What the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is promoting is the worst of both worlds: an obsession with legislation that is going to be a public health disaster; and the distraction of our attention away from potential legislation that could really make a difference in saving lives, using methods that we know work.