Monday, May 14, 2007

IN MY VIEW: American Cancer Society Misusing Cancer Victims and Now Taking Advantage of Women

In Friday's post, I revealed that the American Cancer Society (ACS) has joined the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in a campaign of deception, trying to elicit support for the proposed FDA legislation from its constituents, but hiding from them the critical fact that the bill is supported by none other than the nation's leading tobacco company - Philip Morris.

Today, I explain why I think this is doing a disservice to the nation's cancer victims and why I think the American Cancer Society is actually misusing these individuals.

The Rest of the Story

I have treated a large number of cancer patients in my career and have gotten to know them and their families extremely well. Many of them developed cancer because of smoking and I have had occasion to discuss with these patients and their families their view about the cigarette companies. And I can tell you that a huge proportion of these people would never support any legislation being actively pursued by Philip Morris.

It really isn't too much more complicated than that.

These folks don't trust Philip Morris for one second. They don't believe that Philip Morris would support a bill that puts public health ahead of tobacco company profits. They don't believe that Philip Morris would support legislation that would result in a significant decline in cigarette consumption. They don't believe that any bill which was negotiated with Philip Morris and which contains specific provision to appease the interests of Philip Morris can possibly be a public health policy worth pursuing.

Now comes the American Cancer Society and tells these folks - many of whom have lost loved ones to smoking-related cancers - that we can save millions of lives if only we convince Congress to allow the FDA to regulate tobacco products. Just email your Congressmembers and tell them to support the proposed FDA tobacco legislation. It will help stop Big Tobacco.

The cancer victims or their family members think this sounds great. Who wouldn't be in support of the idea of fighting Big Tobacco?

So they go ahead and email their Congressmembers.

But little do they know that they have just helped Philip Morris to promote its legislative dream come true. Little do they know that they have just supported a bill which is being actively promoted by Philip Morris. Little do they know that they have just supported a bill which contains special provisions negotiated by Philip Morris - provisions which sacrifice health protection in order to protect Big Tobacco profits. Little do they realize that their American Cancer Society is marching shoulder-to-shoulder with Philip Morris through the halls of Congress to promote this legislation.

Talk about misusing cancer victims and their families.

Don't you think that we could have a little bit of respect for these folks and have the human decency to let them know what it is that they are supporting?

If the American Cancer Society wants to try to convince cancer victims and their families and other constituents that Philip Morris has been outsmarted and that the bill will in reality reduce cigarette consumption and reduce the company's profits, then that's fine. The Cancer Society is free to do that. If the ACS wants to try to convince its constituents that the bill is worthy of our support despite the fact that it is Philip Morris' chief legislative priority, that's fine. If the ACS wants to argue to its constituents that despite their innate mistrust of anything that Philip Morris supports, this bill represents a surprising but important exception to the rule for certain well-articulated reasons, then they can go ahead and do that.

But to try to sneak this one by its constituents without ever informing them of the truth - without ever having the decency to give the constituents the ability to make their own informed decision about whether to promote the legislation - is misusing cancer victims and their families for political purposes.

Even if a constituent navigates around the web site, trying to see if there is any fine print or important information they should know about prior to signing away on their support of the legislation, they will be unable to find any mention of the bill's support by the leading tobacco company, nor will they be able to find any mention of the numerous loopholes in the bill, inserted by - and to protect the interests of - Philip Morris. Nor will they be able to find any mention of the critical fact that the bill resulted from a direct negotiation with Philip Morris.

It's not that the important details are in the fine print. There isn't even any fine print. It's what I would call blatant deception.

Of course people who are or have been affected by cancer are going to be a somewhat vulnerable position. Why would they ever fail to support a measure that they are told is going to prevent cancer? So to fail to inform these individuals of a fact as important as that Philip Morris is sponsoring this legislation is completely unfair, inappropriate, and bordering on abusive.

The rest of the story, then, is that the American Cancer Society is misusing its own constituents for its own political purposes.

My readers are familiar with the fact that I happen to believe that the proposed FDA legislation would be a public health disaster and that it would result in increased deaths from smoking, not in the saving of countless lives. But this is actually besides the point. It doesn't even matter. The ACS could be right about the impact of the legislation or wrong about it, and they are still misusing their constituents.

Have the human decency to tell these people exactly what it is that they are supporting. Give them an opportunity to make their own informed decision. Don't make that decision for them without giving them the chance to exercise their own informed judgment. Don't misuse them for your own political purposes -- especially when these are cancer victims and families you are misusing and the political purposes you are supporting happen to coincide with those of the very tobacco company whose products were the ones that caused many of them to be affected by cancer in the first place.

Taking Advantage of Women

The American Cancer Society last week ran a campaign under the theme of "Stop Big Tobacco from Marketing to Women." Constituents, like me, were given the opportunity to send Mother's Day messages to loved ones or friends urging them to help protect mothers from the deadly marketing practices of Big Tobacco.

That message states: "Happy Mother's Day! This Mother's Day, we have a chance to protect all mothers and children from the deadly practices of Big Tobacco. ... For decades, tobacco companies have successfully targeted women and girls with their products, appealing to their sense of fashion and independence. ... As an easy Mother's Day gift to yourself and others, please join me in helping Stop Big Tobacco. Together, we can Stop Big Tobacco."

Enticed by the possibility of taking an action that would stop tobacco companies from marketing to women, constituents who send an email actually end up sending an email that states the following:

"As a volunteer for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, I am asking you honor women this Mother's Day by supporting S. 625 and H.R. 1108 ... It's time we stop tobacco companies from killing our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, and our wives by marketing their deadly and addictive products to women."

What the ACS is doing here, then, is enticing constituents to send Mother's Day messages to friends and loved ones - thinking that they are doing something to address the problem of tobacco industry marketing to women. Instead, possibly unbeknownst to them (unless they scrutinize the scam by first sending a message to themselves, like I did), they are actually being used to promote the FDA tobacco legislation, which does nothing to stop tobacco companies from "killing our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, and our wives by marketing their deadly and addictive products to women."

There is nothing in the FDA legislation that prohibits or in any way regulates the marketing of tobacco products to women. The legislation does allow the FDA to regulate cigarette marketing, but it can only do so in accordance with the First Amendment to the Constitution, and there are no Constitutional grounds upon which the FDA could prohibit the marketing of cigarettes to women (who are, after all, legal age consumers or potential consumers of legal tobacco products).

Essentially, this is a scam.

It is deceiving constituents into thinking that they are stopping tobacco companies from marketing to women. But the bill they are enticed (perhaps unknowingly) into supporting does nothing of the sort.

Moreover, constituents are told nothing about the other critical things that the bill does. They are told nothing about the fact that Philip Morris supports the bill, etc. If someone simply is concerned about the marketing of tobacco products to women, they would have no reason not to send this email along, and thereby support the FDA regulation.

I feel sorry for the potentially thousands of cancer victims and family members who may have been deceived by this political lobbying scam into supporting legislation that they may well not actually support because of its sponsorship by Philip Morris and which does not do the things they were told it will do. It is truly a disservice to the American Cancer Society's volunteers (of which I am one).

I hope that the ACS will put an end to these deceptive tactics immediately.

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