Tuesday, June 03, 2008

New York Times: FDA Tobacco Legislation Provides Special Protection for Big Tobacco Thanks to Tobacco-Free Kids Compromise to Protect Philip Morris

The FDA tobacco legislation currently before Congress would provide special protection for Big Tobacco thanks to a compromise made by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to protect financial interests of the nation's leading tobacco company, according to the New York Times.

In a May 30 article, Stephanie Saul writes about the FDA tobacco legislation: "The legislation, which has been cleared by crucial committees in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, would ban candy, fruit and spice flavorings in cigarettes, but specifically exempts menthol flavorings. That special protection for menthol has been considered crucial to getting the nation’s biggest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA, to support the legislation." ...

"Many antismoking groups have seen the menthol exemption as a necessary compromise in getting a tobacco bill through Congress. ... Until Thursday, the groups going along with the menthol compromise had included the black antismoking organization, the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network. But the group has withdrawn its support, saying that recent publicity about the menthol exemption had created a backlash among its members. ... 'Our constituents across the country are just livid,' said William S. Robinson, executive director of the African American network, a nonprofit group based in Durham, N.C." ...

"Mr. Robinson said he had been unable to find any reasonable explanation for menthol’s exclusion from the legislation’s ban on flavorings. Instead, he said, he had received 'weak and flimsy' excuses for menthol’s exemption from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a leading antismoking organization that agreed to the legislation. The campaign did not return calls seeking comment."

The Rest of the Story

Of course the Campaign did not return calls seeking comment. The Campaign has been secretive and dishonest about the entire nature of the process that led to the FDA legislation as well as who is supporting the bill, running a campaign of deception, secrecy, and exclusion. Apparently, that campaign continues to this day, and the Campaign appears to have no intention of changing its ways.

This appears to be a fight to the death: to the death of the tobacco control movement, that is. The division, feelings of exclusion and non-representation, distrust, and anger that the Campaign's actions are causing are severely harming the movement, and given that the Campaign appears to have no intention of engaging the tobacco control community in an open, honest, and inclusive discussion of the critical issues, this damage is certainly going to continue.

On its web site, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids boasts that the FDA legislation would "end [this] special protection for Big Tobacco."

This story is important, as it confirms what I have been saying for several years: rather than end special protections for Big Tobacco, as the Campaign has boasted this bill does, the bill instead provides special protections for Philip Morris, due to a negotiation between the Campaign and Philip Morris during which the Campaign compromised public health protection for the protection of Big Tobacco profits.

As Mr. Robinson points out, there is no reasonable public health explanation for menthol's exclusion from the legislation's ban on flavorings. He says that he has instead received "weak and flimsy" excuses for this exemption.

He has received a better response than me. In response to my criticism of the menthol exemption, I received a denial that the bill even included a menthol exemption. At least, Mr. Robinson appears to have obtained an acknowledgment that there is indeed a menthol exemption in the bill (which is, I would note, as plain as day).

As concerned as I am about the potential disastrous effects of the FDA legislation on the protection of the public's health, I am even more concerned about the damage to the tobacco control movement that is being done by the Campaign through its conduct of a secretive, exclusionary, and dishonest campaign that is angering tobacco control advocates throughout the country.

The saddest part is that there is no chance to starting the healing process because the Campaign appears to have no intention of changing its ways, opening up the process, and speaking the truth to its constituents and to the public health community at large.

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