Monday, August 14, 2006

Another Youth Anti-Smoking Group Supporting Special Protections for Philip Morris; Unethical Tactics of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids At Work?

Another youth anti-smoking group (in addition to Ignite) is supporting proposed FDA tobacco legislation that would provide Philip Morris with special protections designed to keep major tobacco regulatory decisions in the hands of politicians and subject to tobacco legislative influence, rather than in the hands of scientists and subject only to science and public health concerns.

The Ohio group – Stand Online – held a protest Wednesday at the office of Ohio Congressman John Boehner to call attention to Boehner’s failure to support proposed legislation that would give FDA severely limited regulatory authority over tobacco products. According to the group’s web site, it supports the proposed FDA tobacco legislation and is “doing our part here in Ohio to support FDA legislation by hosting events.”

The Rest of the Story

The rest of the story is that little do these young people appear to know that what they are supporting is a watered down version of legislation which contains gaping loopholes introduced solely in order to achieve Philip Morris’ support for the bill – loopholes which provide special protections for the tobacco companies not enjoyed by any other companies whose products are regulated by FDA.

It seems very unlikely this group of young people would want to support legislation that would help Philip Morris achieve its chief legislative goal. It seems inconsistent with the mission of these youths for them to support a system of special protection for an industry that it is supposedly attacking.

So the question arises: do the youths really understand how the specific provisions of this bill came about? Do they understand that the legislation was written by, or with the assistance and input of, Philip Morris? Do they understand that it was the result of a negotiation that involved Philip Morris and which resulted in substantial public health compromises in order to appease the nation’s leading cigarette manufacturer? Are they aware that there is substantial opposition to this legislation in the anti-smoking community? Are they aware that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids basically agreed to this deal with Philip Morris, knowing that the concessions that were made would compromise the protection of the public’s health in order to appease Big Tobacco? Is this what these young people are really all about?

I doubt it.

I’ve learned from my recent experience in tobacco control that whenever you see youths parading around and “hosting events” in a state of apparent oblivion to the complex realities of the politics of tobacco product regulation, you can pretty much guess that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is in some way behind it. And so I question whether the Campaign really set these youths up for this.

In fact, upon closer reading of the article, we find out that these youths did have substantial interaction with the Campaign, as they were named as Tobacco-Free Kids’ youth advocates of the year. I seriously doubt that the Campaign provided these youths with the full information that is necessary for them to make an informed decision about their position on the proposed FDA tobacco bailout for Philip Morris. It certainly doesn’t appear, from the group’s propaganda (which is highly reminiscent of the propaganda put out by the Campaign), that they have been informed about the most critical issues.

If this is the case, then I view it as an ethical violation by the Campaign, because I don’t view it as being ethical to use youths for our own purposes in this way, especially engaging them in advocacy efforts without providing a mechanism for full informed consent. You cannot have informed consent without informing the youths of these important details regarding the legislation.

And I’m not just talking about varying interpretations of the effect of the legislation. I’m talking about facts – the basic facts about how the legislation came to be, what the provisions are, how these provisions were arrived at, who were the players at the table, and why the specific provisions that compromise public health protection were included in the legislation and why it is apparently essential that these loopholes not be removed from the bill.

If the youths still want to support the legislation after being fully informed about all of these facts, then that’s fine. But they’d certainly have to change some of their rhetoric.

I really hate to see youths used in this way. While I think that getting kids involved in legislative advocacy is a good idea in general, this is certainly not the way to do it. It’s a shame that these youths are being indoctrinated directly into the hypocrisy of the modern anti-smoking movement.

No comments: