Thursday, May 10, 2007

American Cancer Society Continues to Mislead Its Constituents and Fails to Reveal the Truth

In a communication sent yesterday to its constituents, the American Cancer Society attempted to entice people to write Congress to support the proposed FDA tobacco legislation in the name of stopping Big Tobacco and countering Big Tobacco's own letter-writing campaign, but failed to reveal that the biggest company within Big Tobacco - Philip Morris - is strongly supporting the bill and that any letter-writing campaign from Philip Morris is invariably in support of the legislation, not in opposition to it.

In the communication, the American Cancer Society writes: "We need your help to build momentum to Stop Big Tobacco. ... Tell your U.S. Senator that Big Tobacco must be stopped and this legislation must be voted on now! ... Please send a letter to your Senator urging them to take action on S. 625, the Tobacco Product Regulation Bill. Sending a letter now will help give our campaign the needed momentum to get this legislation moving again. We know that Big Tobacco’s friends and lobbyists are sending their letters. We need to send ours too. ... Together, we can Stop Big Tobacco!"

The Rest of the Story

This continues a campaign of deception being waged by the American Cancer Society to promote passage of the FDA tobacco legislation. The ACS is deceiving its own constituents into thinking that this bill is opposed by Big Tobacco, that the bill is not in the interests of Big Tobacco, and that Big Tobacco is orchestrating letter-writing campaigns against the legislation. The truth, of course, is that the largest company within Big Tobacco is strongly supporting the legislation and if Philip Morris is orchestrating any letter-writing campaign, it is certainly a campaign in support of the legislation.

I wonder how many of the ACS constituents who received this mailing would be angered to find out that they had been misled into supporting a bill that is being actively promoted by the nation's largest cigarette company. I suspect that a substantial proportion of these folks would be quite miffed to find out that they were not given all the relevant information.

I could have missed it, but I was unable to find mention of Philip Morris' support for the FDA legislation anywhere on the Cancer Action Network's web site.

An examination of some of the campaign materials being used by the American Cancer Society revealed other deceptive elements of its campaign. For example, the talking points being used by the ACS to entice people into supporting the bill are titled "Stop Big Tobacco from Marketing to Women."

This implies that the proposed legislation would stop Big Tobacco from marketing its products to women. Nothing could be further from the truth. The legislation does nothing of the sort. The FDA cannot stop the marketing of tobacco products to women. Clearly, it would be unconstitutional, as it would violate the First Amendment of the Constitution for the FDA to prohibit the cigarette companies from marketing their products to women.

In my view, this is a rather sleazy tactic - to deceive people who may be concerned about the marketing of tobacco products to women into believing that somehow this legislation will put a stop to that practice in order to gain their support.

The power point presentation which the ACS provides to train its spokespeople and advocates (what you might call the brainwashing mechanism in my opinion) is also very deceptive. It trains spokespeople by informing them that the FDA legislation requires "an end to ... marketing to children." The full text is: "The bill requires an end to free samples and marketing to children."

While it is true that the bill requires an end to free samples, it is false to state that the bill requires an end to marketing to children. In fact, the bill explicitly states that any advertising regulations promulgated by FDA must be consistent with the First Amendment (as if it needed to say that). Based on the Supreme Court's decision in Lorillard v. Massachusetts, it is quite clear that the FDA could not end marketing to children. In fact, it is quite likely that even lesser actions, such as banning ads within 1000 feet of schools and playgrounds would not pass muster in the Supreme Court (that was in fact the nature of the Massachusetts regulations that were overturned by the Court).

It is also important to note that the training presentation fails to mention any of the loopholes in the FDA legislation. It fails to mention any of the numerous provisions in the bill that limit the FDA's authority to regulate tobacco products.

What I find so sad is that in the name of protecting cancer victims and their families and preventing future cancer victims, the American Cancer Society is actually supporting a bill that I think protects the profits of Big Tobacco at the expense of the protection of the public's health. There are in fact numerous provisions in the bill that were most likely placed there at the insistence of Philip Morris which serve only to protect Big Tobacco profits. There is absolutely no public health justification for these provisions. Yet the ACS is not even informing its constituents that those provisions are present. They appear to not even be revealing that Philip Morris is behind the bill in the first place.

This is so unethical that it truly boggles my mind. I absolutely do not understand how this could have occurred. Did the American Cancer Society actually read the bill? Did one person just tell everyone else that the bill is great and everyone needs to support it? Is anyone questioning why the ACS would stand shoulder to shoulder with the company that is causing so many cancer deaths? Is the ACS allowing anyone to raise that question? Does it care? Does it not strike ACS constituents as odd that the ACS would support provisions that sell out the public's health to Big Tobacco profits and refuse to even consider any changes to the legislation?

Even if my opinion about the bill is dead wrong, it is unethical for the ACS to be using these tactics of deception to promote the bill. It is unfair to its constituents. It is a violation of the principle of informed consent not to inform their constituents about the truth behind the legislation. It is really what amounts to dishonesty, in my opinion.

It is sad for me because I think that it represents a profound injustice to the interests of cancer victims and their families throughout the country. It therefore goes against everything that the American Cancer Society is supposed to represent.

I truly hope that the American Cancer Society will reconsider its decision to support this bill. But at very least, I hope that they cut out the use of these deceptive, unethical, and sleazy tactics to promote the bill. Cancer victims and their families deserve a hell of a lot better than that.

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