Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Guess What? Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Again Deceives Public About FDA Tobacco Legislation; On Same Day, It Exploits Kids for Political Purposes

Once again, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is deceiving the public into believing that the proposed FDA tobacco legislation would require tobacco companies to remove or reduce levels of the components that make cigarettes harmful.

In a press release issued yesterday (April 1), the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids claims: "In addition to cracking down on tobacco marketing and sales to kids, the bill would also grant the FDA authority to ban candy-flavored cigarettes; require that tobacco companies disclose the contents of their products and reduce or remove harmful ingredients; stop tobacco companies from misleading the public about the health risks of tobacco products; and require larger, more effective health warnings on tobacco products."

The part of this statement that is not true is the claim that the bill would "require that tobacco companies ... reduce or remove harmful ingredients."

In truth, the bill contains no such requirement. It merely gives the FDA the authority to require the reduction or elimination of certain harmful ingredients. However, the FDA does not have unfettered authority to remove ingredients because it cannot take any action that would have the effect of banning any existing type of tobacco product. Moreover, the tobacco industry is given tremendous influence over FDA's actions: a tobacco industry representative sits on the advisory panel and the legislation contains an escape clause that allows the industry to overturn any regulation simply by obtaining a simple majority vote in Congress (bypassing the usual mechanisms that slow down legislation and make it more difficult to enact).

But the biggest problem with the statement is that it is simply not true.

On the same day that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is deceiving the public about the FDA tobacco legislation, it is also running an event - Kick Butts Day - that in my view is designed to exploit children for political purposes.

Specifically, Kick Butts Day is in my view set up as an attempt to use youths to promote the FDA tobacco legislation. It is a youth advocacy day which is largely centered around an attempt to try to get youths throughout the nation to advocate for the FDA tobacco legislation.

So far, so good. The problem is that the Campaign is not telling youths the truth about the legislation. It is not informing youths that the legislation is actually supported by Philip Morris, the nation's largest tobacco company. Thus, large numbers of youths are being deceived (tricked, if you will) into supporting the legislation and advocating for it, when in fact, they would not do so if they knew the truth behind it.

This, in my opinion, represents exploitation of children for political purposes. It is unethical and inappropriate for a public health group to engage in this type of exploitation.

The Rest of the Story

The only hope we have of excusing the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is to note that the press release is dated April 1 and to assume that this is merely an April Fools Day prank. Perhaps the Campaign will release a follow-up statement today that says: "April Fools! We were just kidding about the FDA legislation requiring that tobacco companies reduce or eliminate the harmful ingredients in their cigarettes. It was just an April Fools Day prank. We apologize for any confusion that it may have caused."

There is no hope, however, of excusing the Campaign from unethically misusing and exploiting youths to promote its own political agenda. That is plainly inexcusable. While I have no problem with encouraging youths to become engaged in political activity, especially public health advocacy, I believe that it is our ethical obligation to inform those youths about the legislation that they are being asked to support. There needs to be informed consent, if you will. And that means that youths must be informed about the key facts of the legislation. In this case, the most important fact that has been hidden from the youths is the fact that Philip Morris is supporting the legislation that the kids are also being asked to support.

I doubt that a large number of youths would get excited about helping Philip Morris to achieve its legislative aims. And I am quite confident that if the youths found out the truth - that they were being tricked into supporting this legislation by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids - they would be irate.

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