Monday, April 30, 2007

American Heart Association Bans Miss New Hampshire from Walking in AHA Heart Walk; Has No Problem Teaming Up With Philip Morris to Support FDA Bill

According to an article on the WMUR (New Hampshire) web site, the American Heart Association (AHA) will not allow the Miss New Hampshire organization to participate in the AHA's Heart Walk as a team because the group has received funding from R.J. Reynolds.

According to the article: "The Miss New Hampshire organization has been banned from walking as a team in the annual American Heart Association Heart Walk because of the organization's ties to a tobacco company. Miss New Hampshire Emily Hughes travels to schools to talk to children about the dangers of smoking. But Dover Middle School recently withdrew its invitation to her once it was discovered that the anti-smoking program was funded by tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds. The American Heart Association has now decided to not allow walkers to march under the Miss New Hampshire banner during the Heart Walk. AHA officials said that they hope anyone who takes part in its signature event shares its message of no smoking. 'The American Heart Association has a national policy that prohibits us from working with organizations that accept funds from the tobacco industry,' said Deborah Hornor, AHA regional vice president."

The Rest of the Story

The rest of the story is that although the American Heart Association has a national policy that prohibits it from working with organizations that accept funds from the tobacco industry, the AHA apparently does not have a policy that prohibits it from teaming up with Philip Morris to support federal legislation that would provide unprecedented special protections for the tobacco industry.

Despite its refusal to allow an organization that has received funds from Big Tobacco to associate itself with an AHA event, the AHA apparently has no problem teaming up with Philip Morris to lobby for the FDA tobacco legislation - which contains special provisions that sacrifice the protection of the public's health in order to protect the profits of the nation's largest cigarette manufacturer.

I have no problem with the American Heart Association taking a principled stand and refusing to associate in any way with any organization that has anything to do with any tobacco company. But the hypocrisy of the American Heart Association's own actions - in contrast to its statement to others - is striking.

Obviously, I'm not suggesting that the Heart Association is working directly with Philip Morris. However, the reality is that the American Heart Association is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Philip Morris in promoting the company's chief legislative priority, and that the AHA is supporting a bill that was essentially negotiated (although not directly) between the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Philip Morris. The AHA is supporting a bill that is a direct result of negotiations with Philip Morris! That's fine. It's the Heart Association's right to do so. But once they've made the decision to team up with Philip Morris in terms of setting national public health policy, I think the organization loses its ground in then telling other groups that they cannot so much as participate in a fund-raising event if they have accepted money from a tobacco company.

American Legacy Foundation and Action on Smoking and Health - move over. You may have some competition for the next hypocrisy in tobacco control awards.

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