An advertisement sponsored by the Cancer Action Network of the American Cancer Society is misleading the American public into thinking that the FDA tobacco legislation being considered by Congress places health above tobacco company profits.
The ad bears a picture of a young girl and states: "You can put her health before tobacco company profits. Nine out of 10 adult smokers started smoking when they were kids. Congress must immediately pass FDA regulation of tobacco to stop marketing that targets children. With tobacco use being the number one preventable cause of cancer, ACS CAN is counting on lawmakers to protect all Americans and save lives. Because when our leaders make cancer a priority on the Hill, millions make progress at home."
The Rest of the Story
Actually, the legislation that the American Cancer Society is supporting puts Big Tobacco profits ahead of the public's health because it includes a number of loopholes that were specifically inserted for no other reason than to protect tobacco company profits. In fact, these provisions were inserted largely to appease the financial interests of Philip Morris, one of the groups at the negotiating table when the deal that led to this legislation was cut. It was apparently perceived that Philip Morris' support was essential to the bill's passage; thus, the health groups were asked to agree to a number of protective provisions. Lest they risk losing the support of the nation's top cigarette manufacturer, the health groups agreed to these protective provisions.
What the public needs to understand is that these provisions serve no public health purpose. The only purpose they serve is to protect tobacco profits.
Thus, the American Cancer Society's statement misrepresents the truth. The truth is, in fact, the exact opposite. The legislation in question puts tobacco company profits ahead of children's health.
How, I would ask, does a provision which precludes the FDA from increasing the age of sale of cigarettes above 18 protect the child pictured on this advertisement? It doesn't. Clearly, increasing the age of sale of tobacco to 21, like the age of sale for alcohol, would significantly decrease youth access to tobacco and would decrease smoking rates. This provision does nothing to protect the public health. It harms the public health. And all in order to protect tobacco company profits. There is no other explanation for why one would want to tie the hands of the FDA to regulate the sale of tobacco by increasing the legal age of sale of the product.
How, I would ask, does a provision that precludes the FDA from regulating the type of places at which tobacco can be sold protect the child pictured on this advertisement? It doesn't. Clearly, restricting the type of retail establishments where tobacco could be sold would significantly decrease youth access to tobacco and would decrease smoking rates. This provision does nothing to protect the public health. It harms the public health. And all in order to protect tobacco company profits. There is no other explanation for why one would want to tie the hands of the FDA to regulate the types of retail outlets where tobacco products can be sold.
For heaven sakes - this bill precludes the FDA from even banning the sale of tobacco at youth community centers or other places where youths gather. It prevents the FDA from banning the sale of cigarettes at convenience stores, which we found out yesterday are the chief culprits in selling tobacco to youths.
In fact, the two actions the FDA could take that would do the most to keep cigarettes out of the hands of our children are both precluded by the legislation. Clearly, this bill was crafted with more than just the public's health in mind. It was also crafted with the profits of tobacco companies in mind.
By the way, I'm not necessarily taking issue with the fact that the bill protects cigarette company profits. Cigarette companies are an important part of the economy and public health groups should be working to ensure that their profits do not go down. What I'm taking issue with, instead, is the statement that the bill protects the public's health at the expense of tobacco company profits. In fact, just the opposite is the case.
To add insult to injury, this bill also precludes the FDA from eliminating any particular type of tobacco product, eliminating the nicotine in cigarettes, and establishing a prescription-only system of access to tobacco products. It also gives Congress veto power over any significant FDA restrictions on tobacco, gives the tobacco industry a seat at the table in discussions about health regulations, and exempts menthol from the list of flavors that cigarette companies cannot add to their products. Each of these provisions harms the protection of the public's health specifically in order to protect tobacco company profits.
That may be a good thing. Do we really want tobacco profits to go down? Do we really want cigarette sales to fall substantially? How would we fund children's health insurance? How would we make sure that we have enough money in our state budgets to finance health care, build bridges, and maintain highways?
What I'm arguing for here is simply calling a spade a spade. You can sell me on protecting cigarette company profits. What you can't sell me on is the idea that this particular bill puts the public's health above those profits. It does nothing of the sort. In fact, it does the opposite.
If you want truth in advertising, I guess the tobacco companies aren't the only ones to avoid. This American Cancer Society advertisement is as misleading as any cigarette ad that I've seen for a long time.