Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Continues to Deceive the American People on FDA Tobacco Legislation

In a September 20 press release, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids condemns Congressmembers who accept tobacco industry contributions, suggests that these contributions are responsible for killing the proposed FDA tobacco legislation last year, and implies once again that Big Tobacco is uniformly opposed to the proposed legislation.

According to the press release: "In light of the recent court ruling, the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund called on all political candidates to return campaign contributions from tobacco companies, reject future contributions and pledge their independence from Big Tobacco by supporting legislation that would allow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco products."

The Rest of the Story

Let's get this straight. The way for Congressmembers to express their independence from Big Tobacco is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the nation's leading tobacco company - Philip Morris - and vote to support this company's chief legislative priority: the FDA tobacco legislation.

The suggestion that by supporting the proposed FDA legislation, Congressmembers are pledging their independence from Big Tobacco is clearly implying to the public that this legislation is uniformly opposed by Big Tobacco. There is no way that anyone reading this propaganda could understand from it that in fact, the largest element of Big Tobacco - Philip Morris - actually supports the legislation and is lobbying for its passage.

I view this propaganda piece as being unethical, because it is grossly deceptive and violates the basic ethical principles of transparency and truthfulness. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is free to support any legislation that they want, but using deception as a tactic to lobby for the passage of this legislation is unethical and inappropriate.

This is not the only deception in the press release. The release, and the accompanying report, claim that tobacco industry campaign contributions are the reason why Congressmembers who opposed the FDA tobacco legislation last year voted against it. What the report tries to hide, however, is the associated fact, disclosed in the report, that the overwhelming source of tobacco company funding spent to lobby Congress was spent by Philip Morris, and in support of the legislation.

The rest of the story is that in 2005, Philip Morris spent $13.6 million lobbying Congress in support of the FDA legislation. This is 7 times higher than the amount spent lobbying Congress by any other tobacco company. In fact, it is nearly twice as much as the amount spent by all of the other tobacco companies (which support the FDA legislation) combined.

So does it not seem disingenuous to suggest that tobacco industry lobbying expenditures are the reason why Congressmembers voted against the proposed FDA tobacco legislation?

Does the Campaign no longer consider Philip Morris to be a part of Big Tobacco? You'd certainly think so reading this propaganda.

The press release is also deceptive in its suggestion that cigarette manufacturers "secretly and significantly increased the levels of nicotine in cigarette smoke between 1998 and 2004". As I have shown with respect to Philip Morris, there were some fluctuations in the nicotine levels but no overall increase. Moreover, none of this was done secretly. The tobacco companies reported these nicotine levels to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The changes in nicotine yields were public information.

The truth is that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in its propaganda, is being far more deceptive than the tobacco companies in altering the levels of nicotine in their cigarettes.

We need to start recognizing that no matter how noble we believe our cause is (and I don't happen to think that providing special protections for Philip Morris to enlist their support for the FDA legislation is particularly noble in the first place), it does not justify the use of unethical behavior - disseminating deceptive and misleading propaganda to the public - to support that cause.

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