Monday, November 07, 2005

American Legacy Foundation Unwilling to Put Mouth Where Its Money Is

The American Legacy Foundation today endorsed a statement attacking U.S. film corporations for exposing youths to smoking in movies and, based on data from a new study released today in Pediatrics, causing these youths to start smoking. The Foundation-endorsed statement demanded that these major corporations take immediate actions to reduce youth exposure to smoking in movies, stating that failure to take immediate action would mean that these corporations are knowingly recruiting thousands of new smokers:

"We, the undersigned, expect the major corporations engaged in film production and distribution to embrace their social responsibility and immediately adopt science-based policies, including R-rating of tobacco imagery, to reduce youth exposure and risks to human health. Given the compelling evidence, any further delay can only mean the knowing recruitment of multitudes of new young smokers by this powerful promotional channel."

The Rest of the Story

On the same day that the American Legacy Foundation blasted America's major corporations engaged in film production for using their powerful promotional channel to recruit multitudes of youth smokers, the Foundation had this to say about its own corporate partner - Time Warner - which is perhaps the largest of the major corporations to which it was presumably attempting to speak:

"The American Legacy Foundation seeks partners in the private sector who will help to further position and expand the foundation as an effective and respected social change leader focused on building a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit. We offer partnership programs that focus on smoking prevention and cessation with a strong focus on those populations which are disproportionately affected by tobacco."

"The American Legacy Foundation seeks strategic partnerships to extend the reach and effectiveness of foundation programs and to enhance ability to support more Americans in their efforts to reject tobacco, and in their efforts to quit smoking. We have formed many successful partnerships both with the corporate and non-profit sectors and are actively enhancing those partnerships and working to develop others. Many organizations that have never been involved in the anti-tobacco cause are joining us and standing as leaders in this important movement. "

Our corporate partners currently include: Time Warner."

I believe that if the American Legacy Foundation were truly interested in reducing the exposure of youths to smoking in movies, the first action that it should take is to publicly reject its corporate partnership with Time Warner, or at very least, to publicly threaten to end its corporate partnership with Time Warner unless it immediately takes the appropriate steps that Legacy and its fellow groups have demanded in today's newspaper ad.

It strikes me as outrageously hypocritical for the American Legacy Foundation to, on the one hand, attack the major film corporations for recruiting multitudes of youth smokers, and on the other hand, suggest that Time Warner (the main culprit) is a "leader in this important movement" that is helping to "further position and expand the foundation as an effective and respected social change leader."

If the claims in this newspaper advertisement are correct, then Time Warner is doing precisely the opposite. Rather than helping Legacy position itself as an effective and respected social change leader, Time Warner is actually making Legacy, by virtue of this corporate partnership, a contributor to the very problem. Does not a corporate partner take on, through the association, some of the attributes of the organization with which it partners?

I certainly think so.

Ironically, if the American Legacy Foundation wants to attack anyone for helping to perpetuate the problem of smoking in the movies, then perhaps it should address its communication to itself. Because Legacy's public endorsement of Time Warner and its partnership with that corporation is doing more to harm the chances of a successful resolution to this problem than anything I can think of.

It's one thing for a tobacco control organization to fail to adequately address a problem. But it's quite another for such an organization to actually contribute to that problem. In this case, I believe the American Legacy Foundation is actually a contributor to the problem of smoking in the movies by virtue of its corporate partnership with the very corporation that is most responsible for the problem.

Whether one agrees that smoking in movies is as great a problem as claimed or not, what I think is pretty clear is that the American Legacy Foundation has re-defined the boundaries of hypocrisy in public health practice.

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