Friday, November 14, 2008

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Admits to Negotiating FDA Legislation with Philip Morris

In a press release, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has admitted that they negotiated the FDA legislation with Philip Morris, proving wrong the claim of Dr. Allan Brandt, published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, that no such negotiations took place.

Dr. Brandt was responding to an article by Dr. Joel Nitzkin of the American Association of Public Health Physicians in which Dr. Nitzkin wrote: that the FDA tobacco legislation "was negotiated between Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Mr. Berlind [chief legislative counsel of Philip Morris] for purposes of securing an FDA bill with full support from our nation's largest cigarette maker."

Dr. Brandt wrote: "Nitzkin is wrong to claim that the currently pending bill was negotiated between Philip Morris and Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The current bill was the work of Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and then-Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH), who have consistently been among Congress's strongest supporters of tobacco control."

The truth is that the bill was negotiated between the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Philip Morris and the Campaign has admitted it. In the press release, the Campaign writes: "Tobacco Bill Negotiations Failed Due To Loopholes Sought By Tobacco Industry ... In a statement released late Wednesday, Philip Morris claimed that negotiations over proposed legislation to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products “have broken down due to the last-minute insistence that the FDA be given the power to ban the sale of all cigarettes to adults.” This statement is completely false, and Philip Morris knows it. The negotiations were not about whether the FDA should be permitted to ban cigarettes or other tobacco products. If it were about whether FDA could or should ban cigarettes, there would have been no dispute. The public health community made clear that our goal was not to ban tobacco products and offered straightforward, unambiguous compromise language that would have provided Congress and only Congress with the authority to take this action. The fact that this offer was dismissed out of hand is a clear indication that Philip Morris and some in Congress wanted to tie the FDA’s hands in requiring any changes in tobacco products, not just to prevent FDA from banning cigarettes. Rather than accept the compromise language we offered, some in Congress insisted on the inclusion of ambiguous language in the section entitled Powers Reserved to Congress that would have allowed the tobacco industry to challenge FDA efforts to require the removal of known harmful substances from current tobacco products."

In addition, in an article published in Roll Call, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids was quoted as stating: "I believe there was at least one meeting with multiple parties present where both sides [the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Philip Morris] were there."

The Rest of the Story

The time has come for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to publicly admit to its constituents and to the public that the organization has been misleading them for years now, and that the legislation before Congress was indeed the result of a negotiation between the Campaign and Philip Morris.

It is time for the Campaign to admit, further, that the specific compromises (i.e., loopholes) present in the legislation are there not because they were desired to protect the public's health, but because they were necessary to appease Philip Morris during the negotiations and retain its support for the ultimate deal that resulted.

It is also time for the Campaign to admit that the reason it has opposed any and all changes that would have strengthened the bill is that it had cut a deal with Philip Morris and it didn't want to renege on that deal and threaten the withdrawal of Philip Morris' support for the bill (which would potentially lead to its defeat).

Moreover, it is also time for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to notify all the youths that it has recruited to lobby for the legislation (through Kick Butts Day and other activities) that they were misled about the bill and that it is supported by, and was negotiated with, the nation's leading cigarette company.

It is also time for the groups that have signed on to the legislation to withdraw their support and admonish the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids for not being honest about the history of the legislation, misleading their constituents, and having sacrificed public health in order to make a deal with the nation's leading tobacco company.

The fact that a Harvard historian with the qualifications and expertise of Dr. Brandt could get the story so wrong is evidence of the success of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in hiding the truth. Even Dr. Brandt was apparently not aware that the legislation was negotiated with Philip Morris.

Clearly, the Campaign has done a tremendous con job.

Forget about an apology -- I'd be willing to settle for a simple admission of the truth (although I think the Campaign owes Dr. Brandt an apology because their con job led to him embarrassing himself in a prominent medical journal).

Most importantly, it is time for all anti-smoking and public health groups to disavow themselves of the FDA tobacco legislation and go back to the drawing board to discuss, in an inclusive manner (with full representation of all constituents, including those representing racial/ethnic minority communities), what would be the best strategy for federal tobacco control legislation (I have already laid out my own proposal).

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