Friday, May 18, 2007

American Cancer Society Continues Campaign of Deception Promoting FDA Legislation; This Time, Taking Advantage of Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

This week, the American Cancer Society is enticing its constituents to write letters to Congress supporting the proposed FDA tobacco legislation by falsely implying that the bill currently before Congress would stop Big Tobacco from marketing its products to "minorities" (i.e., racial/ethnic minority groups).

This week's campaign is entitled "Stop Big Tobacco From Targeting Minorities."

The lead web page states: "Big Tobacco’s expenditures for magazine advertising of mentholated cigarettes, popular with African-Americans, increased from 13% of total ad expenditures in 1998 to 49 % in 2005. And without fail, an estimated 1.6 million African-Americans Americans alive today, who are now under the age of 18, will become regular smokers, and about 500,000 of these will die prematurely from a tobacco-related disease. ... It’s time to Stop Big Tobacco from Marketing to Minorities! You CAN help us show Congress that it needs to put the lives of African-Americans and Hispanics ahead of Big Tobacco’s profits."

The web site then features a link that readers can click; it provides them with a prepared letter to Congress urging passage of the FDA tobacco legislation in order to stop Big Tobacco from targeting "minorities" (racial/ethnic minority groups).

The Rest of the Story

This is truly disturbing to me. The American Cancer Society is blatantly deceiving its constituents into believing that the proposed legislation would stop Big Tobacco from marketing their products to racial/ethnic minority groups. The ACS is clearly implying that the proposed legislation would stop Big Tobacco from marketing to these groups, but the bill does nothing of the sort.

The truth is that the bill does not give the FDA the authority to stop tobacco companies from marketing products to racial/ethnic minority groups. As long as cigarettes are a legal product and adults of racial/ethnic minority groups are legal consumers of those products, the FDA simply cannot stop that marketing. Prohibiting the marketing of tobacco products to racial/ethnic minority groups - as long as that marketing is targeting adults - would clearly be unconstitutional because it would violate the First Amendment to the Constitution.

It is questionable whether even restrictions on advertising designed to protect youths from exposure will be deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court (in light of its ruling in Lorillard v. Massachusetts). But clearly, banning advertising to adults is not constitutional. In fact, the Supreme Court clearly stated: "The First Amendment ... constrains state efforts to limit advertising of tobacco products, because so long as the sale and use of tobacco is lawful for adults, the tobacco industry has a protected interest in communicating information about its products and adult customers have an interest in receiving that information."

Since tobacco use is lawful for all adults - whether they are members of a racial/ethnic minority group or not - restricting tobacco marketing to racial/ethnic minority groups is not allowable under the First Amendment. Thus, the American Cancer Society is not being truthful in telling its constituents that the proposed legislation would stop tobacco companies from marketing to "minorities".

The best the legislation could do is to stop the marketing of tobacco products to youths, and even the extent to which that could be done is not clear. Based on the Supreme Court's previous decision, much of the advertising restriction in the FDA legislation would probably be overturned.

I find it disturbing not only that the American Cancer Society is being untruthful to its constituents, but also that the ACS is taking advantage of racial/ethnic minority groups to try to garner support for its political agenda. The ACS is giving members of racial/ethnic minority groups false hope that the legislation will stop tobacco companies from marketing their deadly products to these groups, and through that false hope, trying to take advantage of the emotions of racial/ethnic minority group constituents (who naturally don't like the idea of being a tobacco industry target) to entice them to support the legislation. But this enticement is being done under false premises.

Essentially, what is going on is that the ACS is manipulating its racial/ethnic minority constituents, playing on their emotions, but doing so in a false and deceptive manner. Little do their constituents realize it, but they are being taken advantage of. They are being used merely as pawns in a political game. To treat racial/ethnic minority group constituents in this way is simply appalling.

Just because an individual is a member of a racial/ethnic minority group doesn't mean that person is any less entitled to be informed about public health policies that affect them. The American Cancer Society has no business trying to get the racial/ethnic minority community to support a piece of legislation without informing the community what the legislation would and would not actually do.

Bemoaning the advertising of mentholated cigarettes, the ACS implies to its African American constituents (and others concerned about the health of African Americans) that the FDA legislation would get rid of the addition of menthol to cigarettes. However, quite the opposite is the truth. The bill would preclude the FDA from eliminating menthol from cigarettes.

Section 907(a)(1) of the proposed legislation states: "A cigarette or any of its component parts (including the tobacco, filter, or paper) shall not contain, as a constituent (including a smoke constituent) or additive, an artificial or natural flavor (other than tobacco or menthol) or an herb or spice, including strawberry, grape, orange, clove, cinnamon, pineapple, vanilla, coconut, licorice, cocoa, chocolate, cherry, or coffee, that is a characterizing flavor of the tobacco product or tobacco smoke."

The bill, then, eliminates all kinds of flavorings from cigarettes, but it leaves the one flavoring that is most responsible for the targeting of African Americans - menthol - alone.

Thus, what the bill actually does is institutionalize the targeting of racial/ethnic minority groups. It ensures that menthol would forever remain a constituent of cigarettes. It ensures that there will always be cigarette brands that are targeted at African-Americans.

The ACS is doing a huge disservice to the African-American community by supporting a bill that would preclude the elimination of menthol from cigarettes. But it is doing an even greater disservice by falsely implying that the bill would stop the marketing of tobacco products to racial/ethnic minority groups when the bill does nothing of the sort.

Last week, the ACS took advantage of women to support the legislation. This week, they are taking advantage of racial/ethnic minority groups. Who will they take advantage of next week?

I do not call on the American Cancer Society to immediately withdraw its support from the FDA legislation. It is the right of the ACS to support whatever legislation it wants to, even if that legislation is clearly not in the best interests of African-Americans, as it would institutionalize the use of menthol to target this group and ensure the continuation of a disproportionate number of tobacco-related deaths among African-Americans.

However, I do call on the American Cancer Society to immediately end its deceptive, inappropriate, and disturbing campaign in support of this legislation.

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