Monday, April 10, 2006

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' Support for FDA Legislation Part of Philip Morris Plan

A 1996 Philip Morris internal document reveals that enticing an anti-smoking group to support the company's call for federal regulation of tobacco products in order to divide the tobacco control community was part of a considered strategy to undermine the effectiveness of the anti-tobacco groups.

According to the document, one of four strategies to undermine the effectiveness of the tobacco control movement was to "Put the ATI [anti-tobacco industry] on the defensive to enhance internal conflicts and cause divisions among its leadership regarding strategies and tactics."

To carry out this plan, Philip Morris wanted "to challenge members of the Anti Tobacco Industry to join us in achieving real solutions on issues of common concern. We will invite them to ... support our efforts to pass federal legislation."

The Rest of the Story

As it turns out, Philip Morris was successful in enticing the largest (at least in terms of funding) of the anti-smoking groups - the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, and American Cancer Society - to support its efforts to pass federal legislation to place regulatory authority over tobacco products in the hands of a politicized Food and Drug Administration, but at the same time, tying the hands of the agency in ways that Philip Morris considered essential to preserving its profitability.

Indeed, these four anti-smoking groups are now leading the charge for the enactment of weak federal legislation that would give FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products but would tie its hands in terms of actually taking any major action that might result in substantially safer products. The legislation that these groups are pushing contains precisely the political compromises that Philip Morris insisted upon in order to ensure that the chances of FDA taking any meaningful action that would threaten tobacco company profits would be minimal.

The success of Philip Morris' enticement of these heavily-funded groups also resulted, as planned by the company, of the development of a rift in the tobacco control community, in which the less well-funded groups, mostly at the local level, opposed the national groups in their efforts to help the largest tobacco company protect and preserve its market share and profits.

Why is it that Philip Morris was apparently successful in enticing the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids into joining it in pushing for weak FDA legislation? And why was it the most heavily funded groups that were enticed, rather than the groups with very little funding?

I can only speculate. My best guess is that groups like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the three major voluntary health groups are unduly motivated by a concern for their own prestige, as well as their continued funding. To achieve federal regulation of tobacco products, for the first time, would be a huge feather in their caps. It would present tremendous public relations (and therefore increased funding) opportunities for these groups.

On the other hand, smaller groups without much funding were perhaps more likely to be motivated by their principles, such as not protecting the profits of the nation's largest tobacco company and not helping to preserve and perhaps increase market share for a particular tobacco company.

Ultimately, then, I think money (and power) is the primary reason why Philip Morris was successful in enticing Tobacco-Free Kids into supporting its plan. It was by dangling that potential feather in the cap (and its resulting meaning in terms of prestige and money) in front of these groups that a tobacco company was, I believe, successful in executing a brilliant plan to undermine the tobacco control movement.

This might ring a bell, as it is nearly an identical enticement (although much more specific in terms of political power and monetary gain) that I think led the Attorneys General to agree to the disastrous Master Settlement Agreement, whose negative effects on the public's health would be dwarfed if the FDA tobacco legislation were actually enacted by Congress.

Philip Morris can now sit back and enjoy watching this scenario unfold. It can practically sit back and let the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and American Lung Association do all the dirty work for it in lobbying Congress to promote legislation that is actually the company's chief legislative priority.

I don't think it has any serious chance of passage right now, but if it were to be enacted into law, what I have called the Marlboro Monopoly Act would be a gift to Philip Morris from its well-funded anti-tobacco friends. Friends who have apparently followed the company's public relations plan to a T.

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