Monday, October 10, 2005

Youth Unknowingly Helping Philip Morris Do Its Bidding; Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' Campaign of Deception is Alive and Well

An anti-smoking non-profit organization, apparently being run by youths, has launched a new web site. The organization, called IGNITE (Igniting a Nation through Action) declares its primary purpose to be "Fighting Big Tobacco."

According to the web site: "Ignite is working to get Big Tobacco out of politics. In a country where our government increasingly revolves around well-funded special interests, public health and the common good are often left behind. To replace the 1200 American smokers that die every day, the tobacco industry spends billions of dollars marketing to young people. This gives youth the unique moral authority to fight back and defend our generation. Ignite realizes that engaging young people in the political process is the only way that we will triumph over Big Tobacco. It's about a generation standing up, being counted, and demanding better policy from our elected officials. Sounds like a hefty endeavor, we know, but we have the power to do it, and we're going to prove it."

"Ignite empowers the youth of America to hold the tobacco industry accountable at every level by directing public officials to act responsibly."

The Rest of the Story

At first glance I thought this looked like a great new organization of youths who, on their sole initiative, wanted to do something to help advance public health interests instead of those of Big Tobacco.

But upon close inspection, I found that the group is not doing this at all.

Because there's a huge problem with the group and its campaign. Namely: it seems to have been so influenced by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' deceptive propaganda campaign that it is itself now running a very deceptive propaganda campaign.

I don't blame the youths for this. I suspect that they are doing this unknowingly. I suspect that they have been misled by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids' deception.

Here are some examples of Ignite's deceptive and inaccurate campaign:

First, an action alert directs its members to write a letter to Senator Charles Grassley, criticizing him for voting against FDA tobacco legislation supported by Philip Morris in 2004, and suggesting that his acceptance of campaign contributions from Philip Morris, among other companies, led to his vote against this bill:

The letter states: "As you know, recently as a conferee, you effectively managed to kill legislation that would have given the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products. You voted just as the tobacco industry wanted you to vote. Since 1997 you have taken more than $30,000 in campaign contributions from big tobacco companies. These contributions come from Altria (parent company of Philip Morris USA and maker of Marlboro cigarettes)... As a Senator you are entitled to vote as you see fit. However, to accept tobacco company contributions and simultaneously vote to support tobacco industry interests, presents a sense of impropriety."

It is impossible to argue that this letter is anything but grossly deceptive and inaccurate. Clearly, Senator Grassley did not vote just as the tobacco industry wanted him to vote. The truth is that Philip Morris vigorously supported the 2004 FDA tobacco legislation. In fact, Philip Morris has stated that this legislation is its top legislative priority.

The letter's assertion that it is contributions from Philip Morris that played a role in his vote is preposterous. After all, Philip Morris supported (and continues to support) this legislation. If Philip Morris' campaign contributions were influencing his vote on this issue, then he clearly would have voted FOR the bill, not against it. Philip Morris wanted this bill badly.

Second, a similar letter to Congressman Bill Thomas states: "As you know, recently as Chairman of the conference committee that gave a tobacco buyout, you effectively managed to kill legislation that would have given the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products. You voted just as the tobacco industry wanted you to vote."

Again, this is deceptive at best, and just plain wrong at worst. Congressman Thomas certainly did not vote the way Philip Morris (the largest and most dominant company within Big Tobacco) wanted him to vote. They supported the legislation which Thomas killed.

Third, the Ignite group has a feature called "Big Tobacco's Friend of the Month." On one of its recent pages, it claims that: "Recently, Senator Grassley could have won a major victory for public health. The Senator had the chance to grant the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate tobacco products. However, as Chairman of the conference committee that addressed this issue, Senator Grassley led the charge to kill such legislation. Essentially, he protected the interests of Big Tobacco."

This claim is very deceptive if not just wrong. By voting against the bill, Grassley was not protecting the interests of Big Tobacco. He was actually voting against the clearly expressed interests of the largest company of Big Tobacco - Philip Morris. To be sure, Grassley was no friend to Philip Morris by killing its bill, and so it is disingenuous to state that he was a friend to Big Tobacco.

I want to emphasize that I am not blaming the youths for this deceptive, misleading, and entirely inappropriate public health campaign. While I do think it is irresponsible for any public health group to run a deceptive campaign that misleads its constituents, it is not actually clear to me that these youths really understand the facts behind what is going on. In fact, I think it's pretty clear that they do not.

For example, do these youths really understand and appreciate the fact that Philip Morris highly desires the enactment of the precise FDA tobacco legislation that these youths are supporting? What would their reaction be if they found out that they are working hard to help Philip Morris achieve its key legislative priority for this Congressional session?

I don't know this for a fact, but it certainly seems like this organization is under the strong influence of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. In fact, it hardly appears that the leaders of the group think for themselves. They seem to have accepted the TFK propaganda hook, line, and sinker.

If the youths aren't being directly influenced by TFK, then they apparently are being influenced indirectly, through TFK's deceptive propaganda campaign, which as I have highlighted, has included a deliberate attempt to hide the fact that Philip Morris desperately wants the FDA tobacco legislation to be enacted.

The rest of the story reveals that what at first glance looks like a very admirable and respectable non-profit public health group run by youths is, in fact, running a deceptive, misleading, inaccurate, and completely irresponsible political campaign. They are, presumably unknowingly, helping Philip Morris to achieve its key legislative priority for this Congressional session, while at the same time trying to make it seem like the FDA tobacco legislation is not something that Philip Morris supports and intimating that those who killed this legislation last year did so, in part, because of campaign contributions from Philip Morris - a preposterous and clearly inaccurate claim.

But the fault is not their own. They apparently have fallen victim to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' deceptive propaganda campaign, which has been trying to hide the fact that Philip Morris is vigorously behind the effort to enact the FDA tobacco legislation presently before Congress.

Now, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has not only defiled itself by its refusal to be forthright and tell the truth and harmed the reputation and credibility of the entire anti-tobacco movement - it has also resulted in essentially the misuse of youths in order to help it achieve its own misguided objectives.

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