Thursday, February 21, 2008

FDA Tobacco Legislation Supporters Are Using Disingenuous Statements to Promote Policy: Senator Durbin Leads Charge in Deceiving the American Public

According to an article in today's Chicago Tribune, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois - one of the leading sponsors of proposed legislation that would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limited regulatory authority over tobacco products - is claiming that the strength of the Big Tobacco lobby is what is likely to hold up passage of the legislation.

According to the article: "The measure currently has 56 backers in the Senate, but needs at least 60 to win Senate approval, Durbin said. A similar bill in the House has the support of 215 representatives. Durbin anticipates a fierce battle getting the measure signed into law. "The tobacco lobby is the most powerful on Capitol Hill," Durbin said. "This is a prime example why Washington has to change." Durbin is running for re-election this fall against Republican Steve Sauerberg, a family physician from Willowbrook."

The Rest of the Story

In order to frame this as an issue of public health vs. Big Tobacco, Senator Durbin appears to be trying to convince the American public that Big Tobacco is against this legislation and that all the powerful tobacco companies are using their influence on Capitol Hill to block passage of the legislation.

Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. The company which dominates all the others within Big Tobacco and which is responsible for the lion's share of lobbying expenditures in Congress - Philip Morris - is actually supporting the legislation and lobbying for its passage.

It is, therefore, disingenuous if not downright false to imply that the major reason the bill faces opposition is because of the power of the tobacco lobby. If the tobacco lobby were that powerful, then Philip Morris should easily be able to get this legislation enacted. Obviously, it isn't so simple as that.

But what makes the statement truly disingenuous is that it implies tobacco companies are uniformly opposed to the legislation, which is false.

It is apparently important for politicians such as Senator Durbin to portray Big Tobacco as uniformly opposing the legislation because he wants to be perceived as fighting this battle against Big Tobacco. The reality, however, is that this bill was negotiated with Philip Morris, it includes a number of key provisions demanded by Philip Morris, and Senator Durbin is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Philip Morris in promoting this legislation in the halls of Congress.

This is hardly a battle between Senator Durbin and Philip Morris. Instead, it is a prime example of a politician who is helping do Philip Morris' bidding on Capitol Hill. Senator Durbin could not possibly be more friendly to the nation's leading tobacco company than to help it lobby for the legislation that it so deeply desires.

That's the truth. That's the rest of the story.

I have no issue with Senator Durbin promoting this legislation. If he wants to hand Philip Morris its dream-come-true and institutionalize into the federal government the approval and acceptance of the death and destruction caused by tobacco products, that's his business. But don't tell me that what he's doing is fighting Philip Morris and Big Tobacco. Don't mislead the American people into thinking that all the major tobacco companies oppose this legislation.

I think the American public deserves something better.

Something called ...

... the truth.

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