Thursday, September 07, 2006

Faith Leaders Appear to Be Hoodwinked by FDA Tobacco Legislation; Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' Campaign of Deception Appears to Be Working

According to an article in the Douglas Daily Dispatch, a coalition of faith leaders (Faith United Against Tobacco) is calling for legislation that would put an end to special protections for the tobacco industry and level the playing field between tobacco products and other consumer products regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

According to the article: "Members of Faith United Against Tobacco, a diverse coalition of clergy and lay members throughout the country, sent a letter to all Congressional candidates urging them to support legislation that gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products. The legislation would protect kids from tobacco and save lives. 'We have spoken out on this issue because we have spent too much time burying mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who die because they became addicted to tobacco products when they were young,' the faith leaders wrote in the letter. 'We know that the tobacco companies continue to spend billions of dollars marketing their deadly product to children and far too many high school students smoke. It is time to protect our children and families.'"

"'The religious community is taking on a critical social challenge - the escalating death and illness from tobacco products,' said James Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church. 'What we are asking for is not overly burdensome. It would simply level the playing field between tobacco and other products. There is consensus in the faith community - both conservative and liberal - that this product must be regulated.' Unlike other products we consume, tobacco products are virtually unregulated. The FDA legislation would finally end the special protection enjoyed by the tobacco industry and protect our children and the nation's health instead."

The Rest of the Story

The rest of the story is that the legislation the coalition is advocating is a Philip Morris-supported and partially Philip Morris-crafted bill that would institutionalize special protections for the tobacco companies and permanently uneven the playing field between tobacco and other products regulated by the FDA.

Rather than end the special protection enjoyed by the tobacco industry, the Philip Morris legislation is laden with loopholes, presumably inserted as a compromise to appease the nation's largest cigarette company, that would tie FDA's hands and ensure that decisions regarding regulation of tobacco products are made in the realm of politics rather than science.

The bill would prohibit FDA from having complete control over the regulation of tobacco products, reserving the most important aspects of regulation (such as whether to eliminate the nicotine) to Congress, where the cigarette companies can use their political influence to block any meaningful changes.

There is no other consumer product for which the regulation of the most critical aspects of safety is placed squarely in the hands of Congress, rather than FDA. This bill would, in fact, create unprecedented special protections for Big Tobacco. Worst of all, these special protections would be institutionalized. The opportunity to craft effective federal regulatory legislation for tobacco products is not going to come around again any time soon. Why would these faith leaders want to permanently bar FDA from addressing the most essential aspects of tobacco policy?

The answer is that I don't think they do. I don't believe that these faith leaders are trying to pull one over on the American people. I believe that they are indeed sincere about not giving the tobacco industry special protections and that they are simply not aware of the fact that the legislation they are supporting is laden with loopholes, inserted specifically to protect cigarette company profits, which would provide unprecedented special protections to Big Tobacco.

How could the faith leaders be so off base, then, in their support for this legislation? The answer, I believe, is that they are victims of the campaign of deception being waged by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The information being put out by the coalition of faith leaders wreaks of the Campaign's influence. It spouts TFK propaganda left and right. Clearly, it appears that the coalition of faith leaders received most of their information about the FDA tobacco legislation from TFK. And that's why I think they are in the unfortunate position of supporting a bill that is completely contrary to their expressed desires.

Regardless of how one feels about FDA regulation of tobacco products (and personally, I'm about as enthusiastic for that as a solution to the tobacco problem as I am for the Red Sox letting Johnny Damon go), what I would hope we would all agree on is that public health groups should be honest, forthright, and transparent in their advocacy for public policies, and should fully disclose all relevant information about proposed legislation to groups they are trying to recruit to support his legislation.

Here, it appears that TFK has failed in its ethical obligation to fully disclose the relevant information. I have yet to see TFK, in any of its propaganda, disclose the fact that it essentially negotiated this bill with Philip Morris, with Congressman Waxman (and perhaps others) as an intermediary. The Campaign has failed to admit that it and Philip Morris were the two major players at the negotiating table, and that the loopholes in the bill are public health compromises that were inserted only in order to appease Philip Morris and protect tobacco company profits.

I think we'll be waiting for hell to freeze over (or the Cubs to win a World Series) before the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids discloses the truth about how this bill came to be. Every time I have seen them asked about it, they refuse to discuss it. Refusing to discuss it is in my mind unethical, because the process by which public health groups develop policy ought to be transparent to the public. It is the public's right to know.

But the public is not going to hear the truth from the Campaign. For that, they have to rely on The Rest of the Story.

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