When asked to explain the support of Philip Morris - the nation's largest cigarette company - for the FDA tobacco legislation, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids led its constituents to believe that it was merely a coincidence. And when a major Beltway newspaper reported that the legislation was the result of a negotiation with the largest company within Big Tobacco, the Campaign accused the paper of inaccurate reporting.
Now, however, an impeccable source of insider knowledge about the process that led to the FDA tobacco bill - a United States Senator - has indicated that Philip Morris was not only involved in the negotiations around the legislation but that the nation's leading cigarette company actually co-authored the bill.
According to a statement by Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY): "Trying to make cigarettes safer through a billion-dollar bureaucracy is a waste of time and money. This bill will do nothing to help people quit smoking, or stop kids from taking up this deadly habit. We need to fight the war on tobacco head on, not sign a peace treaty with Philip Morris, one of the authors and strongest supporters of this bill."
According to the statement, which was entitled "Peace Treaty with Philip Morris No Way to Win War on Tobacco," Senator Enzi "denounced HELP Committee approval of a bill requiring the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco, arguing that the bill would do nothing to stop anyone from smoking or help them quit, and would place new burdens on a struggling agency."
Enzi was particularly critical of the effect the bill would have on undermining the very mission of the FDA: "When the HELP Committee last marked up this legislation, things were rocky at the FDA. Now they are critical. That agency simply cannot be tasked with regulating tobacco, or its entire public health mission could collapse. FDA approves cures, not poisons. Food safety and drug safety have to be the top priorities for FDA. ... We should be focusing our efforts on increasing the number of inspectors, and on updating the food safety authorities, not on adding an impossible burden that perverts the agency's mission."
The Rest of the Story
The rest of the story is that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has been lying to its own constituents and to the public about the history and nature of the FDA tobacco legislation. As it turns out, the truth of the matter is that not only was the legislation a result of a negotiation between the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Philip Morris, but the nation's leading cigarette company was one of the authors of the bill.
In other words, not only was the fox guarding the henhouse, but the fox got to write the rules governing the guarding of the henhouse.
No wonder there are so many loopholes in the bill which weaken the FDA's regulatory authority and protect the special interests of Big Tobacco. No wonder the bill contains unprecedented special protections for Big Tobacco that are not enjoyed by any other industry whose products are regulated by the FDA. No wonder the bill will do nothing to help people quit smoking or prevent young people from taking up this deadly habit. No wonder the bill's "solution" to the tobacco problem is to create a bureaucracy, lace it with an impossible mission, and ties its hands from doing anything that would truly be effective.
Regardless of one's position on the legislation, I believe it is unethical for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to have lied to its constituents and the public. For that, we deserve an apology (for starters).
Senator Enzi is right on the mark when he argues that the legislation does nothing to help smokers quit or to stop youths from taking up the deadly habit. There is no money in the legislation for smoking cessation programs, nor does the bill provide any programs to stimulate smoking cessation. There is no money in the bill for youth smoking prevention programs, nor does the bill do anything meaningful to keep kids from smoking. The advertising restrictions in the bill are not going to be effective, as the more stringent rules will most certainly be challenged by the tobacco companies and overturned by the Supreme Court, which has already indicated its position on this issue. So it is truly a waste of time and money - the creation of another ineffective bureaucracy - just as Senator Enzi charges.
Senator Enzi is also on the mark when he argues that the bill will pervert the basic mission of the Food and Drug Administration. The agency will be put in the position of approving cigarettes for sale and consumption in the United States. This is, indeed, a perverse position for the federal government to be in.
When the U.S. Senate convenes next week, it will likely enact this Philip Morris-authored legislation into law. Inside sources who are familiar with the bill's support in the Senate have indicated to me that there are more than the 60 votes necessary to force cloture and bring the bill to a final vote. Thus, it is almost certain that the legislation will become law.
While the devastating effects of this bill on the public's health has to be the worst aspect of this story, what makes the story even worse is the fact that it comes about as a result of letting the nation's largest cigarette maker write and negotiate its own legislation. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids not only allowed that, made it possible, and willingly participated in it, but the Campaign also lied about it to its constituents and widely deceived the public.
Next week will cap off not only one of the worst chapters in recent public health history, but also one of the worst chapters in the history of unethical actions by the tobacco control movement.