Thursday, May 29, 2008

NAATPN Withdraws Support for FDA Tobacco Legislation; Compromise by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to Protect Philip Morris is Unacceptable

The National African American Tobacco Prevention Network (NAATPN) has withdrawn its support for the proposed FDA tobacco legislation currently being considered by Congress.
Through this decision, which was announced today, NAAPTN becomes the first group to peel off from the broad coalition of anti-smoking and public health groups assembled by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to support this legislation.

NAATPN provides three major reasons why it is withdrawing its support for the legislation. First, it believes that the menthol exemption, which is apparently the result of a compromise agreed to by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to appease Philip Morris and protect the financial interests of nation's leading tobacco company, is an unacceptable sell-out of the health of African Americans.

Second, it believes it is inappropriate for the tobacco industry to be involved in crafting legislation designed to regulate the industry.

Third, it believes it was inappropriate for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to have worked out the compromises in this legislation - especially those which sold out the health of African Americans - without consulting any of the African American health-related organizations which have a primary stake in the issue as well as expertise on menthol and its health impacts.

The following are the key points in the NAAPTN resolution:
  • "[neither] NAATPN nor any African American health-related organization was included or consulted in the process of developing the proposed legislation."
  • "a compromise took place that put the African American and other ethnic communities at a disadvantage with regard to the immediate banning of fruit/candy flavorings, but not menthol."
  • "we are still unclear about what criteria was used to treat menthol differently from the other banned flavorings."
  • "the need for the regulation of tobacco products is long overdue, but not if the industry selling the products helps to craft the legislation."
  • "we think the impact of completely removing mentholated products from African American communities will be decreased tobacco advertising, decreased tobacco use, a potential increase in the need for cessation services, improved health and saved lives, and we would rather prepare to address any new challenges than to face continued tobacco use that contributes to disparate health outcomes. NAATPN is very concerned about how many more African Americans would die from mentholated tobacco products while additional studies are deemed necessary and/or are conducted."
  • "NAATPN has, as part of its mission, to ensure more diverse, inclusive, transparent and beneficial processes in tobacco control."
  • "Our constituents from across the country have voiced their opposition to the treatment of menthol within H.R. 1108."
  • "The National African American Tobacco Prevention Network is withdrawing its support for H.R. 1108 in its present form."
The Rest of the Story

Congratulations to the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network for taking a strong and principled stand that the public's health must not be compromised to protect tobacco company financial interests and that federal regulatory legislation should not be crafted by the industry to be regulated.

It was a brave and courageous act for NAATPN to break ranks with the coalition that is supporting the legislation, and I applaud NAATPN for its willingness to reconsider its position in light of new evidence that was presented to the group and for its leadership in changing its decision after considering this new evidence. This is an admirable example of true leadership by a tobacco control organization and it sets a standard of conduct that I hope all organizations will follow.

I sincerely believe that there are numerous other organizations currently supporting the legislation which were also hoodwinked into joining the coalition because they were not provided with the full information regarding the nature of the bill's protective provisions for Big Tobacco and the details of the process by which this legislation was developed: that is, the negotiation of the specific provisions of the bill with Philip Morris and the insertion of numerous loopholes for the sole purpose of protecting Big Tobacco and retaining the tobacco company's support.

I believe that if these groups are informed about the truth behind the bill, many of them will join NAATPN in withdrawing their support for the legislation. If enough groups do so, then it will become necessary to re-work the bill, this time without Philip Morris at the table and with the entire tobacco control and public health community at the table.

You see, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids made two mistakes. First, they agreed to allow Philip Morris to be at the negotiating table with them in crafting the details of the legislation. Second, they did not ask other public health groups to join in the consideration of the provisions of the bill and they did not act with a consensus of the public health community in agreeing to compromises that sell out the public's health to financial concerns of Big Tobacco. Instead, the Campaign appointed itself as the sole arbiter of these critical considerations.

But the biggest mistake the Campaign made, and the one which I feel is most problematic, is its failure to be honest and forthright and to tell the truth about the development of this legislation and the process by which the specific provisions in the bill were agreed upon. As I have shown repeatedly on this blog, the Campaign continues - to this day - to deceive its constituents, other health groups, and the public about the process that led to the legislation.

The Campaign is running, in fact, an entire campaign of deception designed to hide the fact that Tobacco-Free Kids appointed itself as the sole representative of public health, negotiated the bill with Philip Morris, and agreed to numerous truck-sized loopholes in the bill to protect the financial concerns of Big Tobacco.

In truth, then, the bill contains numerous special protections for the nation's tobacco companies. Thus, it institutionalizes special protections for Big Tobacco, it doesn't end special protections for Big Tobacco as the Campaign has publicly claimed.

There is no place in tobacco control for negotiating legislation with Big Tobacco and letting the tobacco companies have a hand in the writing (crafting) of the legislation that will regulate them.

There is no place in tobacco control for asking a tobacco company to make the key decisions regarding what provisions in federal legislation are acceptable and which are not, and to make compromises solely to appease the concerns of that tobacco company, purely on financial grounds.

There is no place in tobacco control for selling out the public's health, especially that of a particularly disadvantaged population, in order to achieve political compromises to try to advance legislation and especially without the consent of that group's representatives.

There is no place in tobacco control for the exclusion of every other group in our community in making decisions about what aspects of the public's health to sell out in order to appease Philip Morris.

And even if all of the above things do happen, there is no room in tobacco control for being dishonest about these facts and for deceiving the entire tobacco control community.

At this point, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids cannot take back its having negotiated legislation with Philip Morris or having appointed itself as the sole public health representative at the table. However, it can reverse its course in terms of the campaign of deception. It can come clean and tell the truth about the process that led to the legislation. It can explain to us how the bill resulted from a Congressionally-mediated negotiation between itself and Philip Morris. It can explain the fact that a deal emerged from those negotiating sessions and that no input from the public health community at large was possible after that deal had been forged.

A lot more than the FDA legislation is at stake. The diversity, inclusiveness, transparency, honesty, and integrity of the tobacco control movement is at stake. And it all depends on how the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids will respond to this crisis.

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