Monday, December 05, 2005

Don't Like the Direction the Program is Going

It seems to me that whenever a coach of a collegiate or professional sports team is fired, the reason provided is that the general manager or athletic director "doesn't like the direction the program is going." "It's now time to take the program in a new direction" is the rallying cry for a web site devoted to promoting the firing of Oregon State head football coach Mike Riley and seems to be the sole criterion used to defend the firing or hiring of head coaches.

Based on the direction in which the tobacco control program is going in this country, I think it may be time for some new coaching.

Here's how I rate the program's national leadership:

Agenda: C-

The national agenda, largely set by the direction the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is trying to take the program, is obsessively focused on the attempt to achieve federal regulation of tobacco products. It is a focus that is seemingly ignorant of the long history of dismal failures of federal tobacco policymaking, including the disastrous Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1970, the equally disastrous Master Settlement Agreement, and what came close to being the catastrophic global tobacco bailout of 1998.

In order to achieve Philip Morris' support for federal regulation, which is apparently seen as necessary to enact this legislation, the health groups have had to accept compromises that have resulted in truck-size loopholes in the legislation which would provide unprecedented special protections for the tobacco companies, especially for the industry leader. The major health groups are now standing shoulder to shoulder with Philip Morris promoting this legislation, but at the same time, attacking Philip Morris for demanding special protections and for making campaign contributions to try to promote enactment of this bill which will "protect children" and "save lives." It has become a hypocrisy-laden circus and would certainly be the priority for the new coaching staff to straighten out.

At the same time, the national tobacco control program, again largely under the direction of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, seems to have become obsessed with increasing cigarette taxes to support virtually any government program under the sun. I view these taxes as discriminatory policies that serve to balance the state budgets on the backs of smokers, and what they are essentially doing is avoiding the more politically difficult decision to increase taxes on the wealthiest citizens and corporations in order to provide funds that the government should already be devoting to essential services. In addition, from a strategic viewpoint, the enactment of these taxes is making state governments dependent on tobacco consumption for essential services and is therefore removing any incentive to enact tobacco policies that will reduce cigarette use. Finally, the over-promotion of these taxes is making it difficult to promote what I think is perhaps the most important tobacco control intervention - the use of cigarette taxes to directly benefit smokers, through support for disease treatment, smoking cessation, and prevention.

Another problem with the agenda is the focus on penalizing, stigmatizing, and discriminating against smokers in order to try to change their behavior. This is seen most notably by efforts to promote or support employment policies by which smokers are fired from their jobs, assessed "health impact fees," or precluded from employment in the first place. While the national tobacco control leadership is ostensibly not to blame, their silence in the face of these discriminatory actions which are attempting to make smokers second-class citizens, unable to obtain employment, is I think enabling this aspect of the agenda.

Finally, the increasing trend of banning smoking in open, non-enclosed outdoors areas where people can move freely about is troubling, since there is no solid scientific evidence I am aware of which suggests that this is causing substantial morbidity. If anything, I think these efforts are going to undermine legitimate efforts to promote smoke-free workplaces by creating a backlash and by exposing the lack of a public health justification for anti-smoking groups' efforts. Not every national tobacco control group is promoting these measures, but Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights appears to be playing a significant role.

Tactics: D

It's difficult not to give failing marks to a national tobacco control leadership that is using a campaign of deception to promote a piece of legislation that is Philip Morris' dream, that misled its constituents into thinking that Big Tobacco wholeheartedly supported the FDA legislation, that misled the public into thinking that Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum, who represented the government in the DOJ tobacco lawsuit, previously represented R.J. Reynolds in litigation, and which is giving awards and providing corporate partnerships to companies that are the leading causes of youth exposure to cigarette advertising and movie portrayals of cigarette smoking.

In addition, I don't like the direction the program is going in terms of its attacks on individuals and organizations, especially the undocumented claims that a number of groups which oppose tobacco control measures are tobacco industry front groups. This is seen most notably in the Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights hit list-like catalog of Big Tobacco front groups and allies, some of which ANR itself admits have no documented funding from any tobacco company.

No - I don't like the direction this program is going, and I think it may be time for a coaching change. Charlie Weis - are you available?

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