Tuesday, May 01, 2007

American Cancer Society Deceives the Public About FDA Tobacco Legislation; Joins the Campaign of Deception

In a press release issued last Thursday, the American Cancer Society informs the public that the proposed FDA tobacco legislation would require the tobacco companies to remove the harmful ingredients from their cigarettes, something which the legislation does not do.

According to the press release: "The legislation would make great strides by restricting tobacco advertising and promotions, stopping illegal sales of tobacco products to children, requiring changes in tobacco products, such as the removal of harmful ingredients and requiring tobacco companies to disclose the contents of tobacco products, among other things."

The assertion in question is that: "The legislation would...[require]...the removal of harmful ingredients."

The Rest of the Story

The American Cancer Society's statement about the FDA legislation is deceptive for two reasons. First, it asserts that the legislation would require the tobacco companies to remove harmful ingredients from their cigarettes. The legislation does nothing of the sort. It merely gives the FDA the authority to require the removal of certain ingredients. It does not force the FDA to eliminate any particular harmful ingredients from cigarettes. The bill actually gives the tobacco companies tremendous power to block any significant FDA regulation, simply by using their influence in Congress to overturn any proposed regulation.

Second, the statement implies that the tobacco companies would be required to remove the harmful ingredients from cigarettes. This is not the case. Even if FDA acted and the tobacco companies were not successful in their attempt to get Congress to veto the regulation, the most FDA could do would be to require the removal of certain harmful ingredients. By no means could the FDA require the removal of the harmful ingredients from cigarettes (i.e., all the harmful ingredients). In fact, the legislation precludes the FDA from requiring the removal of all the harmful ingredients of cigarettes because it prohibits the FDA from banning the sale of any particular class of tobacco product.

Perhaps it has not occurred to the American Cancer Society, but a cigarette without the harmful ingredients would not be a cigarette.

This story is an important development, because the American Cancer Society has now joined the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in its campaign of deception regarding the proposed FDA tobacco legislation. It has become clear that the supporters of this legislation are so desperate that they cannot afford to merely tell the truth to the public about what the legislation would and would not require.

Quite ironic, don't you think, as in the same press release the American Cancer Society complains that "the industry continues to deceive the public." A more accurate description would have been to state that "the industry, like us, continues to deceive the public."

Further, the American Cancer Society might have gone on to state that: "While the tobacco industry's deception is unacceptable because they are selling harmful products, our deception is fine, because we're working towards a good cause."

Deception is deception, and if it's wrong for the tobacco companies, then it's wrong for us. In fact, it's even more important that we refrain from the tactic of deception because if we want to retain any credibility in arguing that action is needed to prevent the companies from deceiving the public, we need to be beyond reproach in our own use of that very tactic.

It continues to escape me why telling the truth is no longer enough in tobacco control. We apparently now have to deceive the public in order to promote our agenda. The shame and irony of this story is that the American Cancer Society is actually using deception in order to promote Philip Morris' agenda.

Philip Morris must truly be enjoying seeing these developments unfold. Who would have thought that the company could simply sit back and allow the health groups to promote its legislative agenda? And that the company could just lay back and that the health groups would misrepresent the details of the bill so severely that the public would be deceived into thinking that the legislation would actually require the companies to remove the harmful ingredients from their products?

Philip Morris doesn't even need to run a campaign to try to misrepresent the provisions of the legislation to convince policy makers and the public that this legislation would require cigarettes to be safer products. It can sit back and relax and watch the health groups do all the dirty work for them.

While the brilliance of Philip Morris never ceases to amaze me, the lack of ethical behavior on the part of the major health groups amazes me even more.

I guess telling the simple truth is simply not in vogue any more in tobacco control. As usual, I guess I need to catch up with the times.

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