Monday, February 26, 2007

American Cancer Society Joins Anti-Smoking Groups in Deception of the American Public Over FDA Tobacco Legislation

Supporters of the proposed FDA tobacco legislation continue to use deception to promote the bills which have now been introduced into Congress by Senator Edward Kennedy and Congressman Henry Waxman. In a United Press International article that appeared on Friday, the American Cancer Society added its name to the list of groups using this unethical tactic by implying that Big Tobacco was fighting the effort to have its products placed under the regulatory authority of the Food and Drug Administration.

According to the article: "Wendy Selig, vice president of legislative affairs for the American Cancer Society, believes FDA regulation of tobacco is a crucial step toward getting the tobacco industry under regulation. 'The tobacco industry has fought us at every step of the way,' Selig said. 'Part of the reason FDA regulation of tobacco is so important is because time and time again, this industry has proven that they can't be trusted.'"

The Rest of the Story

I guess you can add the American Cancer Society to the list of anti-smoking groups which are using massive deception of the public to promote their favored policies.

Here, the American Cancer Society tells the American public that the tobacco industry has fought every step of the way towards regulation of tobacco by the FDA, when the truth is that the chief supporter of the proposed legislation is none other than Philip Morris, the largest of the tobacco companies and the controller of half of the overall Big Tobacco cigarette market.

So I guess that the tobacco industry has not fought us every step of the way.

Moreover, if it's true that the tobacco industry cannot be trusted, then why agree to legislation that was drafted by, or at least whose provisions were crafted with the direct input of Philip Morris?

The supporters of this legislation are trying to cast it as Public Health vs. Big Tobacco to make it look like a no-brainer, but that's simply not the truth. The truth is that the public health community is divided over the bill, as is Big Tobacco. The issue is characterized better as being larger anti-smoking groups vs. smaller groups and largest tobacco company vs. smaller tobacco companies than it is as being public health vs. the tobacco companies.

Putting aside the merits (or lack thereof) of the bill, I think it is unethical to lobby for the legislation in a way that is massively deceptive to the American public. I think it is unfortunate that these large anti-smoking groups have chosen to use deception as a tactic to promote the legislation, especially since it is the deception by the tobacco companies that they claim to be fighting against with this legislation.

Not everyone has fallen for the deception.

Jacob Sullum sees the issue for what it is. In a wonderfully written column in the New York Post on Sunday, aptly entitled "A Gift for Philip Morris," Sullum calls Representative Waxman on his statement that the days of Congress doing the bidding of the tobacco industry are over, noting that Waxman himself is now doing the bidding of Philip Morris:

"'The days of Congress doing the bidding of the tobacco industry are over,' Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., recently declared. 'This long overdue legislation would give FDA broad powers to regulate tobacco products and protect Philip Morris.' Actually, Waxman said 'protect public health,' but I've taken the liberty of decoding the phrase for you. The bill to which Waxman was referring, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, has the enthusiastic backing of Philip Morris, which thinks regulation by the Food and Drug Administration will help shore up its position as the leading cigarette manufacturer. Take that, Big Tobacco!"

Timothy Carney also sees through the smokescreen, the deception, and the hypocrisy in his column Friday in the Washington D.C. Examiner, also aptly titled ("Philip Morris Wins With Kennedy, Waxman Bill Against 'Big Tobacco'"). Carney sums it up succinctly:

"Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., speak as if they are going after Big Tobacco with their bill to heighten regulation of cigarettes, but their most important ally is the embodiment of Big Tobacco: the Altria Group, parent company of Philip Morris. Indeed, the liberal lawmakers may be doing wonders for the cigarette behemoth’s bottom line with their legislation."

Carney also notes that the media is getting the big picture wrong by framing this as a battle between public health groups and Big Tobacco: "Much of the media continue to present this debate as a battle between health groups and Big Tobacco. In truth, it is a battle between Biggest Tobacco and the rest of the industry, with Philip Morris often being praised for supporting a bill that will boost the company’s bottom line by hurting its competitors."

I would only add that the media is largely getting it wrong because the anti-smoking groups are presenting it wrong.

And that is not only unfortunate because it massively deceives the public; it is also unethical and irresponsible.

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