In a communication sent to its constituents on Friday, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids again deceived citizens around the nation in order to entice them to support the proposed FDA tobacco legislation. The communication implored citizens to contribute money to help youth advocates promote the FDA tobacco legislation and indicated that this money was necessary because those advocates would need to fight Big Tobacco in the halls of Congress. The constituents were informed that Big Tobacco is a staunch opponent of the legislation.
According to the email: "This summer Youth Advocates from across the country will stand up for kids and take a stand against Big Tobacco's outrageous marketing. Will you help support these Youth Advocates as they take the battle against Big Tobacco right to Capitol Hill? ... These youth will insist Congress pass legislation allowing the FDA to regulate tobacco products and sinister tobacco marketing campaigns like Camel No.9. Your contribution to the Action Fund will aid our efforts to provide vital training and resources so these Youth Advocates succeed. The Youth Advocates are taking on a wealthy and powerful opponent. It's up to you and me to make sure they're armed with the tools they need to fight Big Tobacco in the halls of Congress - and win. Please support the Youth Advocates with a gift to the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund. ... Help us empower the leaders of tomorrow today by supporting the Youth Advocates' efforts to fight Big Tobacco and pass life-saving FDA legislation. Thank you!"
The Rest of the Story
The truth is that the wealthiest and most powerful of the tobacco companies - Philip Morris - is not an opponent of the legislation at all. Philip Morris will not in fact be taking on the Youth Advocates, but will instead be helping them to try to win passage of the bill. The Youth Advocates will not be fighting Big Tobacco, at least not the largest of the tobacco companies. The largest and most dominant of the companies will be joining the Youth Advocates in trying to secure passage of this legislation.
By informing its constituents that the Youth Advocates wil be fighting Big Tobacco in order to promote the FDA legislation and that these advocates are taking on a wealthy and powerful opponent, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is misleading citizens throughout the nation into believing that Big Tobacco is uniformly opposed to the proposed legislation. This, in my view, is outright deception. It is untruthful and dishonest. It is unethical.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids appears to have turned into a pure propaganda machine. The organization, in my view, has lost its legitimacy as a public health advocacy organization because it does not respect the basic public health ethical principle of informed consent.
This ethical principle, which the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is consistently violating, is the community-level equivalent of the principle of informed consent, which is spelled out in the American Public Health Association Code of ethics. Just as public health organizations must provide individuals with full and accurate information before enrolling these individuals in research studies, public health organizations must also provide the public with full and accurate information that is necessary to make decisions on policies that affect them:
"Public health institutions should provide communities with the information they have that is needed for decisions on policies or programs and should obtain the community's consent for their implementation. ... there is a moral obligation in some instances to share what is known. For example, active and informed participation in policy-making processes requires access to relevant information. ...Such processes depend upon an informed community. The information obtained by public health institutions is to be considered public property and made available to the public."
I don't think that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (nor other groups supporting this legislation) have made available to their constituents the relevant information needed for them to be able to make an informed decision about the proposed policy, and about whether or not to donate money to this cause.
If I, as a citizen, am approached by a public health group asking for my financial support to send some youth advocates to Washington to fight Big Tobacco, I am very likely to open up my pocket book and write out a check. It sounds like a great cause. How could it not be?
However, if instead, I am told the truth and am informed that I am being asked for my financial support to send some youth advocates to Washington to help Philip Morris encourage policy makers to enact legislation, it doesn't sound like such a great cause anymore. It certainly adds a critical "nuance" to my understanding of the plea for financial help if I am told that while the smaller tobacco companies oppose the bill, the largest company supports it. This still might not deter me from contributing money, but at least I am given the opportunity to make my own informed decision. Such an opportunity is not being afforded to citizens whose money is being elicited from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' communication. Their constituents are not being provided with the opportunity for informed consent.
While informed consent would be important even if the sole purpose of the communication was to enlist citizens' support for the legislation, informing them of the truth about the tobacco companies' position on the legislation seems even more critical when the purpose of the communication is to ask for our money.
How would financial contributors feel if they found out they were solicited on false grounds: that in fact the largest company of Big Tobacco and its huge financial resources are backing the bill in the halls of Congress? I'm sure that many contributors would be quite angry, and this could quickly become a scandal.
I condemn these unethical tactics and I think it is time that some semblance of integrity be restored to the tobacco control movement.