Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights Still Deceiving American Public

Despite being made aware over the weekend of one very misleading and one inaccurate claim on its web site, the anti-smoking group Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights has failed to alter the content of the action alert on that site to correct or clarify the false and misleading information.

As reported here on Saturday: In an action alert intended to outrage its readers and stir them to demand an investigation of the recent change in the Department of Justice's requested smoking cessation remedy, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR) informs the public that Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum is a "former tobacco industry lawyer." The alert also informs the public that: "The only rationale given [for the change in smoking cessation remedy] was that the cessation services should only be provided to future smokers addicted in the first year after the trial."

As of this morning, the ANR web site still claims that Robert McCallum is a "former tobacco industry lawyer."

The web site also continues to fail to mention that the DOJ gave a legitimate legal explanation for its rationale in substituting a $10 billion smoking cessation remedy for the original $130 billion request. Whether sincere in its statement or not, the government does now claim that the remedy was changed in order to comply with the appellate court decision which does not allow backwards-looking remedies, such as the $130 billion plan proposed by a government expert witness.

The Rest of the Story

ANR's original failure to present accurate information on its web site regarding McCallum's employment history could have been a simple oversight or could have been due to an errant newspaper report or to the Waxman and Meehan letter's errant claim. If so, then the original mistake is excusable. It is not necessarily ANR's fault if the information they possess is incorrect. However, the claim that remains on the web site at this time can no longer be said to be an oversight or due to errant information. The organization is now well aware (or should be) that this information is false, as the inaccuracy was pointed out to them and they have had enough time to verify the information and correct it.

From the best available information I can obtain, McCallum never represented the tobacco industry in any litigation - he is not a former tobacco industry lawyer. He did work for a law firm that represented R.J. Reynolds, but that doesn't make him a tobacco industry lawyer if he was not involved in those cases.

The persistence of this inaccurate claim on ANR's web site can now only be assumed to be a deliberate decision, since it easily could have been corrected. Unless, for some reason, ANR was unable to access its web server yesterday in order to fix the error or there is some widespread cover-up going on and ANR possesses information that no one else seems to have. I have no reason to believe that either of these is the case.

There are two explanations for the presence of what I perceive as this false information on the ANR web site. First, it could be that ANR disagrees with my assertion that Robert McCallum is not a former tobacco industry lawyer. If so, then McCallum must have lied to the DOJ Ethics Office in order to gain clearance to participate in the case, as DOJ spokesperson Tasia Scolinos made it clear that no lawyer working on the DOJ case previously represented the tobacco industry in litigation. Or else, she is also lying.

Second, it could be that ANR agrees with my assessment, but doesn't care. And that's a really disturbing possibility. Because no matter how important we may think the ends are that we're working towards, it doesn't justify the use of unethical tactics to achieve those ends. And distorting the truth is unethical, especially if an organization misleads the public in the setting of trying to stir that public to take political action.

Ironically, one of the main points of the action alert is that Big Tobacco lied about scientific information: "Smokefree campaigns around the country would benefit from Big Tobacco admissions that they lied about health effects of secondhand smoke." I can't see how it could be wrong for Big Tobacco to lie, but not for ANR to communicate false information.

In light of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' deceptive communication to its constituents claiming that Big Tobacco was vigorously fighting the proposed FDA legislation (when Philip Morris was and is vigorously supporting the legislation), it seems to be harder and harder now to find anti-smoking groups that place any serious value in being honest and forthright in their communications.

Ultimately, ANR's misleading claims, if they remain uncorrected, are going to damage the entire anti-smoking movement. After all, telling the truth has always been the thing that has completely separated us from Big Tobacco. Will we be able to continue saying that if this type of behavior continues?

No comments: