Friday, August 03, 2007

New York Times Op-Ed Piece Nicely Explains Folly of FDA Tobacco Legislation

An op-ed in today's New York Times by Patrick Basham, director of the Democracy Institute, very nicely explains the folly of the FDA tobacco legislation that was approved by a Senate committee earlier this week.

The piece, entitled "Put Out This Tobacco Bill," reveals that Philip Morris had a pivotal role in writing the bill, working with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Basham argues that the bill is bad for public health and that its primary effect would be to protect Philip Morris by reducing competition from other companies.

Basham also points out that the bill would undermine years of public health efforts by giving the public the incorrect perception that cigarettes are safer. In addition, it would put the government in the position of essentially making undocumented claims about the safety of cigarettes, since it would take many years to determine whether any changes required in cigarettes actually reduced risk or not. Furthermore, the bill would end liability for the tobacco companies, and transfer it over to the government.

Basham writes: "Philip Morris, the world’s largest tobacco company, is also firmly behind the bill. In fact, it played a pivotal role in writing the legislation, working with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. What these strange bedfellows came up with is bad for competition in the tobacco industry and bad for public health. One problem is that under the proposed law, the F.D.A. would regulate any new “reduced-risk” tobacco products. And in so doing, the agency would be responsible for setting standards to determine which tobacco products pose a reduced health hazard. Since the F.D.A. has neither the resources nor the expertise to do this job itself, it most likely would need to turn to the industry for help. Philip Morris, which is miles ahead of its competitors in developing the next generation of tobacco products, would be only too happy to assist. In effect, it would be Philip Morris’s standards and products that would define the F.D.A.’s definition of reduced-risk cigarettes." ...

"Moreover, by setting regulatory standards for reduced-risk cigarettes, the F.D.A. would send a message to both smokers and nonsmokers that smoking is really not very risky. However, it will take several decades before anyone is able to do the epidemiological studies that could demonstrate whether this is true. In effect, this bill tosses aside decades of work by the public health community to convince people either to stop smoking or not to start in the first place. By assigning the F.D.A. responsibility for all tobacco products, the new law would also relieve the industry of any liability for tobacco safety — and pass it along to the government. Few lawmakers seem to understand either the bill’s origins or ramifications. But the Senate should send it back to the committee and start from scratch."

The Rest of the Story

Basham makes many of the same points that I have been making in my commentaries on this issue over the past few months. I think most critically, he points out that lawmakers do not understand either the origins of the bill (that it was crafted largely by Philip Morris and resulted from a negotiation between Philip Morris and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids) or its ramifications.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' propaganda and its campaign of deception have been largely successful in misleading policy makers and the public about the origins and true intent behind the legislation as well as its actual implications for the public's health.

For many years, the tobacco companies were able to use deception and dishonesty with great effect to mislead the public about the hazards of smoking and to achieve their desired public policies. Now, it is the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' turn.

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