A source who was involved in the process that led to the FDA tobacco legislation currently before Congress has confirmed that the menthol exemption in the legislation was considered to be a deal-breaker by Philip Morris and that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids caved in to this Philip Morris demand in order to appease the nation's largest tobacco company. The source also confirmed that the legislation represents the results of a negotiation between the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Philip Morris, which was mediated by Congressional leaders.
The Rest of the Story
It is now clear that the FDA legislation represents an attempt by Philip Morris to determine federal tobacco regulatory policy, and that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is a willing accomplice in the tobacco company's efforts.
It is also clear that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has sold out the public's health in order to help protect the financial interests of the nation's largest cigarette company. The menthol exemption is just one example of a sell-out that the Campaign made to protect Philip Morris' financial interests. In fact, there are numerous, huge loopholes in the legislation that are present solely to protect Big Tobacco, and the Campaign sold out the public's health in each of these areas.
I think it is completely inappropriate for Philip Morris to be involved in the development of federal legislation regarding tobacco products. You don't develop legislation by sitting down with the manufacturers of the product and asking them to indicate what they demand to be present or absent in the legislation, and then use that as a baseline for your bill.
But what is even more inappropriate is for a public health group to agree to develop federal legislation by sitting down with Philip Morris to negotiate a bill.
And the final clincher, which makes the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' behavior inexcusable, is for that public health group to take it upon itself to make all the decisions regarding what tobacco company demands to accede to, without the knowledge of, and input from the rest of the public health community.
By the act of sitting down and negotiating a critical piece of federal tobacco legislation with Philip Morris and excluding all other public health groups, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids co-opted the entire tobacco control movement. It took the entire movement into its own hands and acted as the self-proclaimed representative for all of us, without our consent.
By doing so, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids violated two of the basic principles of public health practice:
1. Inclusion: It is inexcusable that the Campaign failed to include the majority of tobacco control advocates in the process. The exclusion of advocates from communities of color is particularly inexcusable. The Campaign should never have negotiated with Philip Morris without the knowledge and consent of the tobacco control community, and it should certainly not have made decisions to sell out to Philip Morris' demands without the knowledge and consent of our community.
2. Transparency: It is also inexcusable that the Campaign conducted its negotiations with Philip Morris in private and that it has hidden and continues to hide the entire process of these negotiations in a shroud of secrecy.
I can say with certainty that if I were in charge of a national tobacco control organization, I would never take it upon myself to make all the decisions for the tobacco control movement regarding what compromises should be made in federal legislation. I would never have allowed Philip Morris to have a hand in making decisions regarding the limits on regulation of their products in the first place.
But even had I decided to cave in to Philip Morris on some of their key demands, I would never have made those decisions myself as a self-proclaimed representative for all of tobacco control.
When I think about it, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has an incredible amount of self-importance and arrogance to even think about putting themselves in a position to negotiate federal tobacco policy for the rest of the tobacco control community without our knowledge, input, or consent.
Who appointed the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to be the tobacco control czar for the United States?
Through these actions, I believe that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has gone a long way to destroy the fabric of the tobacco control movement. It is no longer an inclusive, representative, transparent, grassroots movement of dedicated and concerned advocates across the nation. It is now under exclusive control by one organization that has declared itself to be the controlling force for national policy decisions.
So many other national, state, and local tobacco control organizations are extremely unhappy with the way the Campaign has completely co-opted the movement. But they are all afraid to speak out publicly because we are not supposed to criticize other organizations. Plus, the Campaign controls a huge amount of resources in the movement, and no one wants to jeopardize their own funding. Moreover, no one wants to reject this process, revoke their support for the bill, and thus be viewed as the group that killed the legislation.
The rest of the story is that it is now clear that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in a move of extreme arrogance, proclaimed itself to be the representative of the entire tobacco control movement in negotiations with Philip Morris that led to the legislation currently before Congress. In the process, the Campaign sold out the public's health to protect the financial interests of the nation's largest tobacco company. The Campaign agreed to unprecedented special protections for Big Tobacco that are enjoyed by no other company whose products are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
For those of us in public health, this is an example of obscene policy making. This is politics at its worst. It is the ultimate hypocrisy in tobacco control. It has no place in this movement, and it should be immediately rejected by every tobacco control group that has an interest in the long-term viability of the tobacco control movement.