Monday, May 21, 2007

American Cancer Society Claims Big Tobacco is Lying About Cigarette Ingredients, But Provides No Evidence; Truth Can't Be Used to Support FDA Bill?

This week's theme of the American Cancer Society's web site promoting the proposed FDA tobacco legislation is "Stop Big Tobacco from Lying About Their Ingredients."

The American Cancer Society's main FDA campaign web page explains it as follows:

"Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including at least 69 that cause cancer. These dangerous chemicals include arsenic, formaldehyde, ammonia and radioactive Polonium-210. Yet most Americans don’t know what’s really in a cigarette because tobacco companies are not required to disclose the contents of their products or to remove dangerous ingredients. Despite all the death and disease they cause, tobacco products are exempt from basic health regulations that apply to other products such as food, drugs and even dog food. All of these products have a list of ingredients somewhere on the label but not on a pack of cigarettes. It’s time to Stop Big Tobacco from Lying About Their Ingredients! You CAN help us show Congress that it needs to put lives ahead of Big Tobacco’s profits."

Then, the page states: "Read our talking points about how Big Tobacco is lying about their ingredients," and links to this page.

However, the "talking points" page about how Big Tobacco is lying about their ingredients does not say anything about how Big Tobacco is lying about their ingredients. It merely points out that consumers are largely unaware of the ingredients because there is no requirement that these ingredients be disclosed. It also mentions that the tobacco companies are deceiving consumers by marketing products with terms such as "low-tar," which imply some degree of health benefit.

The Rest of the Story

Despite all of the fanfare from the American Cancer Society, I'm still waiting to hear exactly how Big Tobacco is lying about the ingredients in their products.

I'd really like to know because I testify in lawsuits all the time against Big Tobacco, and this would be dynamite evidence to present to a jury. In my previous testimony, I've been able to testify that the tobacco companies have misled the public into thinking that cigarettes are safer than they actually are by undermining the public health messages that have been disseminated regarding the risks of smoking. However, I have never before been able to testify that Big Tobacco is actually lying about what the ingredients of their products are. That's because I was previously unaware of this fact.

So I would love for the American Cancer Society to reveal exactly how the tobacco companies are lying about the ingredients in their products. Is the ACS claiming that there are ingredients in Big Tobacco's products which the companies claim actually aren't in there? Or is the ACS claiming that tobacco companies have stated that their products don't contain certain ingredients which actually are in there?

This would be extremely damning evidence to present to a jury, because it would demonstrate that even in 2007, the tobacco companies continue to lie to the public about their products, and in this case, with factual misrepresentation about the ingredients in the products, not merely with a misleading framing of the information.

I'm aware that the cigarette companies have claimed that there are certain levels of tar and nicotine in their products, as required by the Federal Trade Commission. Beyond that, I'm not aware of claims about the ingredients of cigarettes that the companies are making, so I am anxious to find out about these claims.

Unfortunately, the evidence that the ACS provides in its "talking points" does not demonstrate any lying about any ingredients.

First, failing to disclose the ingredients does not represent "lying" about the ingredients. Lying about the ingredients would mean claiming that something is present which is not actually there, or that something isn't there which actually is. The fact that cigarette companies don't disclose all the ingredients of their products may be improper (I actually don't think it is - frankly, what does it matter what's in there as long as people know the product contains thousands of chemicals, many of which are toxic and/or carcinogenic), but it is certainly not lying.

Second, while marketing products as "low-tar" may be misleading because it implies a safer product, it does not represent "lying" about the ingredients in the product. In fact, the cigarettes are "low-tar" as defined by the Federal Trade Commission. So the tobacco companies aren't lying; they're just misleading people.

So that leaves us with nothing. No evidence whatsoever that the tobacco companies are lying about their ingredients.

Perhaps the American Cancer Society is just keeping this all hushed because they don't want to give anything away. But a more likely possibility is that the American Cancer Society is full of it, and that this is yet another sleazy ploy to promote passage of the FDA tobacco legislation.

By suggesting to its constituents that Big Tobacco is lying about the ingredients in its products, it certainly does make it appealing to support legislation that would require disclosure of these ingredients. The problem, however, is that Big Tobacco (at least to the best of my knowledge) is not lying about the ingredients - it is just not required to disclose them.

The one attempt to require cigarette companies to disclose the ingredients of their products (by the state of Massachusetts) was struck down by the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. It is therefore unclear whether the ingredient disclosure requirements of the proposed legislation will survive legal challenge in the first place.

But the point is - simply - that the American Cancer Society appears to be once again deceiving the public in order to generate support for the FDA legislation.

Is not the American Cancer Society capable of using factual information to argue in support of the FDA legislation?

Is the bill so awful that the ACS needs to resort to the consistent use of deception to support it?

If the ACS cannot use the truth to argue in support of the bill, then might it perhaps want to re-think its position on the bill?

As a sidenote, I should mention that disclosure of the ingredients in cigarettes will do nothing to protect the public's health. We already know that cigarettes kill - knowing the specific ingredients in the cigarettes, beyond the more than 4,000 chemicals that have already been identified - is not going to help out substantially. After all, what is there that we are going to find out from disclosure of all ingredients that we don't already know from the identification of the thousands and thousands of ingredients that we have known about for the past 30 years or so? The cigarette additives have already been disclosed and that long list hasn't been of any use to protecting the public's health.

But that's neither here nor there. The point is that the American Cancer Society is once again using deceit to support the FDA bill. Either that or they are keeping one of the juiciest secrets of all time.

The truth be told, the only entity I'm aware of that is "lying" to the public about the "ingredients" in cigarette smoke is the anti-smoking movement. After all, weren't we the ones who claimed that cigarette smoke contains asbestos; and then retracted that claim when called on it, only to claim - again falsely - that cigarette smoke contains plutonium?

If you are going to publicly accuse the tobacco industry of lying, I think it is only appropriate that you provide evidence and documentation to support your claim. The American Cancer Society has failed to do that.

I'm left, therefore, with the impression that the ACS is being somewhat disingenuous. I guess it just isn't fashionable to be honest when you are promoting the FDA legislation.

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