An analysis released today by Jack Cannon, a long-time independent tobacco control activist in Florida, examines the fundamental question of why Philip Morris is supporting legislation that gives the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products. The analysis is based on an examination of tobacco industry documents relating to FDA legislation, public statements by tobacco industry executives, and a careful reading of the proposed legislation itself.
The piece suggests that the primary reason why Philip Morris is supporting the legislation while other tobacco companies are opposing it is that as the nation's industry leader with a huge advantage in resources, including scientific, research, and development resources, Philip Morris is aiming to market a cigarette that would significantly reduce exposure to a number of toxins in tobacco smoke. The company needs FDA's blessing to do so, however. And FDA's blessing consists of a Philip Morris-controlled regulatory scheme by which it, and no other company, could produce a successful reduced risk product sanctioned by the federal government.
The piece concludes that: "The Philip Morris objective is now clear. They are attempting to establish FDA regulations controlled by them to benefit their own products that their competitors cannot duplicate. This will allow Philip Morris to become an American tobacco industry monopoly."
The Rest of the Story
Jack Cannon's informative and insightful analysis provides several critical lessons regarding the FDA tobacco policy debate.
First, it emphasizes the important fact that Philip Morris is supporting not the idea of FDA regulatory authority over cigarettes, but this particular bill. The company is not agreeing to allow public health and science to dictate the appropriate conditions for regulating the nation's leading cause of preventable death. Far from it. Philip Morris is instead insisting on playing a major role in the writing of the legislation. In essence, what it is supporting is regulating itself.
Second, the analysis corroborates the conclusions of McDaniel and Malone, whose research I highlighted in last Friday's post. There is now broad agreement that one of the primary reasons why Philip Morris is supporting H.R. 1376 and S. 666 is to enhance their own public relations benefits, rather than any public health benefits. The desire to gain good will by being seen as a good corporate citizen, especially in light of the fact that other companies would likely oppose the legislation which strongly favors the existing, Philip Morris-dominated market, is paramount in the company's strategy. Good will translates into improved public image, more favorable attitudes regarding the product, and ultimately, increased consumption of Philip Morris cigarettes and an improvement in the bottom line.
Third, this analysis goes beyond the conclusions of McDaniel and Malone by emphasizing an additional factor that likely explains the major reason for the discrepancy among the tobacco company positions on the FDA legislation. Cannon's piece reconciles this discrepancy by noting that it is Philip Morris, and Philip Morris alone, that is poised to benefit from a regulatory framework that provides a government blessing for reduced exposure products, especially when Philip Morris is almost certainly in a position to successfully market such a product. Philip Morris would become not only the dominant player in the existing cigarette market, but in the market for reduced exposure cigarettes as well.
Jack Cannon's outstanding analysis of this issue supports my earlier assertion that the proposed FDA legislation would better be called the "Marlboro Monopoly Act of 2005."
The sad part of the story, though, is that Philip Morris is being assisted in its effort to achieve overwhelming domination of the domestic cigarette market by none other than the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, whose purported mission is "fighting to free America's youth from tobacco and to create a healthier environment."
The Campaign, if it succeeds, will certainly achieve its end of creating a healthier environment. Unfortunately, it will be a healthier environment for Philip Morris to market its deadly products, unencumbered and with little competition, and with the blessing of the United States government, as well as of "one of the nation's largest non-governmental initiatives ever launched to protect children from tobacco addiction and exposure to secondhand smoke."