Monday, August 11, 2008

The Truth is Revealed: Philip Morris Helped Draft FDA Tobacco Legislation and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Negotiated Bill with Philip Morris

In a press release issued on July 30, Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, denounced the House passage of the proposed FDA tobacco legislation, which he called the "Marlboro Protection Act." He stated that Philip Morris helped draft the bill, which "coddles Big Tobacco while protecting the industry's best tools to recruit and addict your children to tobacco."

According to Senator Enzi, Philip Morris supports the bill "because it will not stop anyone from smoking." He charged the anti-smoking groups with becoming so desperate to do something that they have fallen for "this wolf in sheep's clothing."

Calling the bill a "peace treaty" with Philip Morris which maintains the status quo and protects tobacco company profits rather than create real change which would reduce tobacco use, Enzi vowed to object to the bill and fight it on the Senate floor.

According to the press release: "U.S. Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today denounced passage by the House of Representatives of a so-called tobacco regulation bill he said “coddles Big Tobacco while protecting the industry’s best tools to recruit and addict your children to tobacco.” “Trying to make cigarettes safer through a billion-dollar bureaucracy is a waste of time and money,” Enzi said. “The right approach is to get people to stop smoking, or better yet, never to start. Big Tobacco supports this bill because it will not stop anyone from smoking. “Tobacco is one of the biggest contributors to our nation’s growing health care crisis. We need to fight the war on tobacco head on, not sign a peace treaty with Philip Morris, a company that perpetuates and profits from the crisis. Big Tobacco supports this bill because they have a stake in maintaining the status quo. I don't. They’re happy with a bill that doesn’t stop people from smoking; I’m not. I want real change, so I’m going to fight this bill and its Big Tobacco backers by objecting to it in the Senate.”

"Enzi noted that the bill would allow Big Tobacco to continue its aggressive marketing to kids by exempting menthol from a list of banned flavorings. Menthol is used by Big Tobacco to target and lure young smokers, particularly African-Americans. “Last year, during HELP Committee consideration of this bill, I filed several amendments addressing the menthol issue. Folks need to understand this glaring loophole in the bill and how it puts our kids at risk. “We know that Big Tobacco targets children and teenagers – particularly young African-Americans – by aggressively marketing menthol cigarettes to them,” Enzi said. “So why does this bill ban almost every type of flavoring in tobacco products except menthol? Supporters of this bill claim they want to protect children and families from unscrupulous tobacco companies, but the only people this approach protects is Big Tobacco.” The bill would gut the authority that Congress has bestowed and staunchly defended for the FDA – the authority to remove health threats from the marketplace, Enzi maintained."

"Philip Morris, the nation’s largest cigarette maker, helped draft the bill. “Poison peddlers shouldn't get to decide how we fight the war against their deadly products. I urge my friends in the public health community not to become so desperate to do something about the tobacco problem in this country that they fall for this wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Enzi added. “Keep asking yourself: if this bill is good for Big Tobacco, how can it be good for public health? The fact is it can’t. This bill is nothing more than a ‘Marlboro Protection Act,’ written to keep Philip Morris at the top of the tobacco market.”

In an article last Thursday published in the Washington Post, Associated Press reporter Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar confirmed that the FDA bill was the result of a negotiation between the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Philip Morris, during which the Campaign made public health compromises in order to appease the nation's largest tobacco company. According to the article: "The legislation represents a compromise among major anti-smoking groups and some tobacco companies, including Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest. The bill has the support of a majority of senators, but it's unclear whether it will become law this year because the Bush administration has threatened a veto."

In the article, Alonso-Zaldivar reveals yet another loophole in the legislation. This time, it is an escape clause which allows tobacco companies 21 months after passage of the legislation to introduce new tobacco products into the marketplace: "It would let tobacco companies begin selling a new product provided they file a report with the FDA showing why the new product is similar to an existing one. That could be done at any time in the 21 months after enactment of the legislation."

According to the article, former FDA tobacco office director Mitch Zeller said the loophole was a "gift" to the tobacco companies.

The Rest of the Story

The rest of the story is that it is now clear that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has been running a campaign of deception and dishonesty. Multiple independent sources, including a number of top-notch investigative reporters and a member of the Congress, have confirmed that the FDA tobacco legislation represents the results of a negotiation between the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Philip Morris, and that the key provisions of the bill which protect tobacco company interests are present specifically because the Campaign made compromises to appease Philip Morris, which helped to draft the bill.

It is simply inappropriate for the Campaign to have negotiated with Philip Morris, especially without the consent and involvement of the rest of the tobacco control community. It is appalling that the Campaign would have made compromises that harm the protection of the public's health at the expense of the protection of tobacco industry profits. It is even more appalling that the Campaign agreed to these compromises without the inclusion and representation of the remainder of the tobacco control community. And it is disgraceful that the Campaign is pushing for a bill that was drafted, in part, by the nation's leading tobacco company.

As bad as all that sounds, what's even worse is that the Campaign has been dishonest about the facts behind the legislation and that it continues to deceive the public about the nature of the negotiations that led to the bill. Worse still is the Campaign's continuing deception of its own constituents about the fact that Philip Morris supports the legislation and is lobbying to promote its passage.

In my view, Senator Enzi's analysis is right on the mark. This is pro-tobacco legislation and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and its partners are acting as pro-tobacco groups in promoting its passage.

Philip Morris supports the bill specifically because it will stop nobody from smoking. In fact, the bill precludes each of the potential interventions that the FDA could otherwise take that would make a dent in smoking rates.

Why anti-smoking groups would support a bill that is being championed by the nation's leading tobacco company is beyond me. Why these groups would support a bill with numerous truck-sized loopholes that sell out the public's health to protect Big Tobacco profits is also beyond me. However, my leading hypothesis is that these groups are so anxious to be able to say they got something accomplished - to be able to put a feather in their cap - that the act of passing a bill has completely overshadowed the actual substance of the bill.

In other words, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is so determined to put a feather in its cap that it is willing to exclude the rest of the tobacco control community from the process, deceive its own constituents and the public about that process, ally itself with Philip Morris, and sell out the public's health to protect tobacco company profits.

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