Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Misusing Youths to Serve their Purposes: The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Ignite

Last week, I exposed that a new anti-smoking group (Ignite) being run by youths and young adults was conducting its own deceptive (and therefore inappropriate and unethical) campaign to promote the FDA tobacco legislation. This group, I reported, has issued public statements suggesting that Big Tobacco (including Philip Morris) is opposed to that legislation, when in fact, Philip Morris supports the bills and considers them to be its chief legislative priority for the 2005 Congressional session.

I suspected that deception of this magnitude, which seemed to be following propaganda and rhetoric that was all too familiar, had to stem in some way from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which I believe is running a major campaign of deception to promote the FDA bills. I found it hard to believe that a group of youths and young adults, completely on their own, could have come up with a campaign like this.

Just think about it for one minute. A group of youths and young adults decides to mobilize to fight Big Tobacco. They are so aggressive in their efforts that they go publicly on record as calling the tobacco companies terrorists and suggesting that our government is harboring terrorists by allowing the tobacco companies to undertake a legal business in our country. They are so aggressive that they attack every politician in the nation who takes tobacco money as being corrupt and call for the ouster of each and every one of them (which would leave very few in office).

And then, they .....

... decide to help Philip Morris lobby for the bill that it most wants Congress to enact??????????

Something just didn't make sense to me.

There seemed no way that a group of young people who were so strongly against the tobacco companies would, of their own accord and of their own initiative, decide to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the biggest "terrorist organization" of them all - Philip Morris - and help the company promote its legislative agenda. The group would, after all, be helping to "harbor terrorists," would it not, if it helped them achieve their desired legislation? And I can't imagine the young people would want to do that.

Therefore, I couldn't help but suspect that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids was somehow largely behind this effort, either directly or indirectly.

Today, I report that my suspicions were "on the money" and that the influence was apparently quite direct indeed. There are strong connections between the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Ignite, and in my opinion, the Campaign has inappropriately used these kids and their organization to help promote its own legislative agenda (not an agenda that seems near and dear to the hearts of these kids and what they really are all about, since I don't think they're all about helping Philip Morris do its legislative bidding). Today, I reveal ...

The Rest of the Story

Here are some of the connections between the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Ignite:
  • Most importantly, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has provided substantial funding to Ignite, although its affiliation with Ignite does not seem to be revealed on its web site: "Ignite has been graciously supported by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, based in Washington, D.C." The Campaign provided at least $10,000 to Ignite to get it off the ground.
  • A member (past or current) of the Board of Directors of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids serves as the President of Ignite, and appears to have been (if not continuing to) serving both of those roles at the same time.
  • A member of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids was described as being the "founder" of Ignite.
  • The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has provided training, including direct experience promoting the FDA tobacco legislation, to a number of the leaders of Ignite. This has been accomplished mainly through giving individuals a youth advocate award and then providing them with an "opportunity" to promote the FDA legislation. The awards involve giving these youths money and training them for one year: having them work directly with the Campaign on issues such as the FDA legislation. In fact, the award recipients work as "ambassadors" for the Campaign.
  • The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids gave a youth advocacy award and the associated training and lobbying experience that comes with it to the individual who is now president of Ignite, who worked with the Campaign to promote the FDA legislation. The Campaign has also given these youth advocacy awards to the individual who was the co-founder of Ignite, the individual who is vice-president of Ignite Iowa, a past vice president of Ignite, a current vice president of Ignite, and an individual who helped found the Connecticut chapter of Ignite.
Essentially, what I think is going on here is that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has used these youths and young adults to try to achieve its own agenda - enacting FDA tobacco legislation.

I think it is sad enough that the Campaign has been conducting its own campaign of deception to promote the FDA legislation in what I view as an unethical manner. But to start involving kids, youths, and young adults in that effort is a real shame.

It's sad to think that the way that these motivated, conscientious, and otherwise laudable young people are getting their public health careers off the ground is by being used by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to achieve its own narrow-minded political objectives. And that the way the whole thing has apparently been done is so under-the-cuff.

The young people don't seem to have any kind of understanding of the politics or strategic issues behind the FDA legislation and the policy issues involved in its consideration. They don't seem to understand that the bill was essentially negotiated between the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Philip Morris. They don't seem to understand that Philip Morris wants this legislation badly because it will help freeze the existing market, stifle competition from other companies, and allow the nation's leading cigarette manufacturer to advance its reduced exposure products with immunity, allowing it to even further its market domination.

And why don't they? Is it because they are not intelligent enough or sophisticated enough to obtain such an understanding? Not for a minute. It's simply because, I think, their training has come from the Campaign itself, which undoubtedly did not disclose to these youths the whole truth and the full details behind the origins of the FDA legislation and the reasons for Philip Morris' vehement support of these bills.

And now - as a result - you have these young people running a deceptive campaign of their own. I want to make it clear: I'm not blaming them. I think they have been used. I blame the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids for the inappropriate training of our new generation of tobacco control leaders. They are getting off to an unfortunate start, I think, largely because their training and initiation into the field of tobacco control has been so poorly managed by the Campaign.

They have certainly not learned from the Campaign the importance of being accurate in their public communications and the ethical value of telling the truth. You only need to look as far as their public declaration that: "Currently tobacco products are the only consumer product not regulated by the FDA." That's interesting - I wasn't aware that FDA regulates all other consumer products.

I find it quite unfortunate that our new generation of leaders in tobacco control is being trained to be as inaccurate, as misleading, as deceptive, and as inappropriate as our current leadership. Again - not through any fault of their own. They are very well-intentioned and are to be applauded for their efforts. But they are apparently being wildly misled by the Campaign's rhetoric about the FDA legislation - rhetoric so wild that these youths can't help but spew more of that rhetoric out and exaggerate the claims even more, to the point where they become fallacious. That doesn't say a lot for where the anti-smoking movement is headed. But sadly, it says even more about the sad state of affairs with the current anti-smoking movement.

After all, if we can't train our future leaders to have the highest standards of integrity and ethics and the utmost concern for telling the truth to the public and trying to be accurate in their public statements, then we are in deep trouble. (Once more, I don't think the young people are doing anything wrong. I just think they have been misguided).

Ultimately, I guess we can't train the next generation to have high ethical standards unless we ourselves have those standards. They will only follow the example that is being set for them. And I'm afraid that example is, right now, a very bad one.

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