Friday, September 01, 2006

CHALLENGING DOGMA (Post #11): Maintaining Cigarette Addiction by Increasing Nicotine Yields is the Sign of a Rogue Industry

As we've seen in the past few days, one aspect of the dogma of the current anti-smoking movement is the belief that maintaining addiction to cigarettes by controlling the nicotine yield of cigarettes is a sign of a rogue industry that needs to be regulated in order to be brought under control and to protect the public's health.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH), in releasing its report showing that nicotine yields of cigarettes increased approximately 10% between 1998 and 2004, cast this change as a detriment to the public's health and as one which would increase the addictive power of cigarettes. More pointedly, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (TFK) cast this increase in nicotine levels as a sign of a rogue industry that is out of control and needs to have the nicotine content of its products regulated in order to protect the public's health and prevent the companies from "secretly" increasing levels of the addictive agent of cigarettes.

In response, TFK is pushing legislation that it claims would resolve this problem. However, if you actually look at the Philip Morris-supported bill that TFK is advocating, it would tie FDA's hands and prevent it from doing precisely the thing that is necessary to resolve the problem: eliminating the nicotine from cigarettes. Thanks to TFK's lobbying and its refusal to consider strengthening the legislation, FDA would be permanently enjoined from resolving the addiction aspect of the smoking epidemic.

Thus, TFK is blowing smoke when it laments the increase in nicotine levels and whines that this means its pet legislation is necessary. That pet legislation would preclude exactly the remedy that is called for if one were serious that the addictive properties of cigarettes are a massive public health problem that needs to be regulated.

To be sure, the anti-smoking movement casts the industry's use of nicotine to addict its customers as sinister and inappropriate. Yet the movement fails to call for the removal of that nicotine from cigarettes. In fact, the movement is actively pushing for legislation that would permanently preclude the removal of nicotine from cigarettes by the Food and Drug Administration.

Something is seriously wrong here. Where is our consistency? Where is our integrity?

The problem is the blatant hypocrisy, and the impenetrable dogma. You can't adopt the dogma that the industry is a rogue one because it addicts its customers and then attempt to institutionalize the addictive component of the product. It just doesn't make any sense.

If it is the case that society has accepted the production and sale of this toxic and addictive product, then the industry is not so rogue and not so sinister for producing a toxic and addictive product. What makes the industry rogue and sinister is that it continues to deny that its product is addictive and that it finely controls nicotine yields of cigarettes in order to maintain the addiction of its customers.

Remember that there is nothing fraudulent about the industry producing an addictive product. The fraud (that was proven in the DOJ case) is in the industry's lying about the addictiveness of its product and refusing to admit the truth about its knowledge of the addictive nature of nicotine and about its fine control of nicotine levels in order to maintain addiction.

Mixing up these two may seem like a fine point, but it is a critical one to understanding tobacco control and intervening appropriately.

If we truly feel that it is unacceptable to allow an industry to market a highly addictive tobacco product, then we should be trying to fashion a policy approach that will phase out the addictive nicotine from cigarettes.

There should be no particular alarm at the fact that cigarette companies are trying to maintain addiction among their customers and that to do this, they have increased nicotine yields somewhat over the past 7 years. OF COURSE they are trying to maintain addiction among their customers. That's what their job is! If they didn't do this, they wouldn't be doing their job!

Why it is that we feel that tobacco companies should somehow decide to try to lose the bulk of their customers is beyond me. Why we would expect that the companies would do this I cannot even fathom.

No - controlling nicotine levels in cigarettes does not make the tobacco companies a rogue industry. What it makes them is a wise and profitable industry that is doing exactly what it should be doing.

The tobacco companies' sole purpose is to do business. They are not in the public health field. Protecting the public's health is not part of their mission. If it's legal to put nicotine in cigarettes, then they have every incentive to control that nicotine as best as they can to maximize the addiction of their customers. Why wouldn't they do that? It would be a self-destructive business decision to do anything other than that.

What they shouldn't be doing is lying, deceiving the public, and breaking the nation's laws. So if you (TFK) have a problem with the companies putting nicotine in cigarettes, then call for the elimination of nicotine from cigarettes. Don't get behind a bill that Philip Morris supports because it contains a clause that precludes the elimination of nicotine from cigarettes. Make addicting people to nicotine against the law, not an institution permanently protected by the government of the United States.

It's clear to me that something else is going on here. It's called propaganda and rhetoric. And hypocrisy. But it's devoid of any real public health meaning.

I think it's time to stop pretending that the cigarette companies are supposed to be do-gooders. They're not. They're in business for one purpose and only one purpose - to sell cigarettes. And the way to do that best is to carefully control nicotine levels, increasing those levels if necessary to maintain a constant level of addiction among one's customers. The tobacco companies are doing their jobs. I think it's time that we start doing ours.

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