According to the poll: "83 percent support requiring tobacco companies to take measures, when scientifically possible, to make cigarettes less harmful; 76 percent support requiring the reduction or removal of harmful ingredients, including nicotine, from tobacco products."
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids concludes that "A new national poll of registered voters finds that 77 percent of American voters support Congress passing a bill to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate tobacco products."
The Rest of the Story
Junk science has reared its ugly head again in tobacco control. Frankly, this is junk science at about the worst as I have ever seen it in the movement. In my opinion, this poll - commissioned by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids - is more shoddy than any public opinion poll that the tobacco industry has ever commissioned to "demonstrate" that smoke-free bar and restaurant laws result in devastating economic impacts to businesses.
In my opinion, this poll was rigged in order to generate the impression of widespread support for the legislation, when in fact, we have no idea based on the survey whether or not the public would actually support this legislation or not.
Why? Because the survey was rigged, in my opinion. It did not ask people the appropriate questions that would need to be asked in order to determine whether the public supports the legislation. The way that the questions were worded, and the topics they cover, ensured that the public would overwhelmingly express support for the legislation. But the public was specifically not asked about those aspects of the legislation that might have resulted in overwhelming disapproval of the legislation.
Incidentally, this is precisely the kind of thing we criticize the tobacco companies for in commissioning surveys that purported show that restaurant smoking bans are devastating for business. But apparently the same technique is acceptable as long as it works in our favor.
I'll make my point by suggesting the kinds of questions that I think would need to be asked to get an accurate reflection of the public's actual opinion about the proposed legislation. But first, let's just take a look at three of the questions that were asked.
The main question asked was: "Would you favor or oppose the U.S. Congress passing a bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) the authority to regulate tobacco products, including restrictions on sales and marketing to children?"
This question is virtually meaningless, because it doesn't indicate support for the actual legislation being proposed. It simply indicates support for the general idea of granting the FDA authority to regulate cigarettes. Much of the public probably would support the general idea of giving the FDA regulatory authority over cigarettes but would not support the specific regulatory scheme that Philip Morris helped craft that is reflected in this particular legislation.
I, for example, fall into that category. If I had been a subject in the survey, I would have responded that I indeed favor the U.S. Congress passing a bill that would give the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products. But as all my readers know, I am one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed legislation out here. That's how meaningless this particular question is.
Another question asked whether respondents would favor a provision in legislation that would: "Require tobacco companies to take measures, when scientifically possible, to make cigarettes less harmful."
Who wouldn't support such a provision? The problem is that the bill contains no such provision. There is nothing in the bill that requires the tobacco companies to make cigarettes less harmful in any way that is scientifically possible. In fact, the bill precludes the FDA from taking precisely that action which would correspond with the question that was asked - to require companies to simply remove all the harmful constituents from their products. It is certainly scientifically possible to do that. But the bill precludes that action, because it does not allow FDA to ban any particular class of tobacco product. Once again, I would have answered that I indeed favor a provision in the bill that would require tobacco companies to take all measures that are possible to make cigarettes less harmful. Unfortunately, there is no such provision in the bill. If anything, the bill gives tobacco companies the ability to easily block any attempt by FDA to make even more minor changes in cigarette design.
Another question asked whether respondents would favor a provision in legislation that would: "Require the reduction or removal of harmful ingredients, including nicotine, from tobacco products."
Again, it's hard to imagine why anyone would not favor such a provision. However, once again there is no such provision in the bill. The legislation merely gives the FDA the ability to require the reduction or removal of particular harmful ingredients. The FDA could not require the reduction or removal of all harmful ingredients (which is implied by the question), nor does the bill require that the FDA take any particular action at all. In fact, the bill gives the tobacco companies the ability to block any required removal of an ingredient merely by getting a majority of Congressmembers to veto the regulation. Moreover, the bill specifically precludes the FDA from requiring the complete removal of nicotine from cigarettes. So this question - while it provides a result quite favorable to TFK - also has no relevance to the actual legislation in question.
If one were interested in getting a truthful impression of the level of support of the American people for the actual FDA legislation, rather than in simply using junk science to obtain rigged, politically useful, pre-ordained answers to irrelevant questions, here are examples of the questions that I think would also have to be asked of people:
1. Would you favor or oppose the U.S. Congress passing a bill to regulate tobacco products that is strongly favored by Philip Morris, the nation's leading cigarette manufacturer?
2. Would you favor or oppose the U.S. Congress passing a bill to regulate tobacco products that was negotiated with, and possibly written in part by Philip Morris?
3. Would you favor or oppose a bill that contains provisions, inserted to appease the interests of Philip Morris, that interfere with the protection of the public's health from the harms of cigarettes?
4. Would you favor or oppose a bill that ties the FDA's hands in terms of its ability to regulate tobacco products in an unfettered manner?
5. Would you favor or oppose a bill that provides Congress with veto power over any major regulation promulgated by FDA to protect the public's health from tobacco products?
6. Would you favor or oppose a bill that precludes the FDA from completely removing nicotine from cigarettes?
7. Would you favor or oppose a bill that preempts the ability of state governments to regulate tobacco products?
8. Would you favor or oppose a bill that makes it virtually impossible for cigarette companies to market what may be truly safer products?
9. Now I'm going to read a list of ways in which the Food and Drug Administration could regulate tobacco products. After each one, please tell me if you favor or oppose the FDA implementing that particular proposal or policy.
a. Increasing the age of sale of tobacco products to 19.
b. Banning the sale of tobacco products at pharmacies.
c. Keeping cigarettes out of the hands of minors by requiring prescription-only access.
d. Including two tobacco industry representatives on an advisory panel to recommend regulatory actions to the FDA.
It is hopefully clear from these questions that the Tobacco-Free Kids survey is a sham; it does not truly measure support for the bill in question. Instead, it is an example of using junk science to promote an anti-smoking group's agenda. The distinctions between the tactics of the tobacco companies and our leading anti-smoking organizations are becoming narrower by the day.