Monday, December 08, 2008

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is Hiding the Truth from Youths, Misusing Them to Promote Its Pet Legislation

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, "The Youth Advocates of the Year Awards, sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, honor the outstanding work of young advocates who have taken the lead in holding the tobacco companies accountable for their efforts to market products to youth. These young activists are fighting to protect their peers, their communities and the nation from the dangers of tobacco use through public education efforts, student-to-student training and outreach to policymakers. Many have worked to change policies at the national, state and local events to limit youth access to tobacco, protect people from secondhand smoke, and ensure that tobacco prevention programs continue to receive funding. Their work inspires and motivates other young people to join in their advocacy efforts."

The Rest of the Story

At first glance, this may look like an innocent, well-intentioned, appropriate program to honor youths who are health activists in their communities.

But upon closer inspection, it turns out to be an unethical, deceptive, propaganda program which misuses youths in an attempt to promote passage of legislation which, unbeknownst to the youths, is supported by Philip Morris - the nation's largest tobacco company.

The telling fine print is on the application form itself, where tucked in among the required questions about what activities a youth has undertaken is a mandatory question in which youths are required to state their position about the proposed FDA tobacco legislation, after reviewing a Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids propaganda page about the bill.

There's one major problem: nowhere on the propaganda page does it disclose the truth - that the legislation is supported by the the nation's leading tobacco company. Such information would be crucial to obtain informed consent from youths regarding their willingness to work for such legislation, something they will be asked to do if they win this youth advocate "award."

The very fact that youths are required to state their position on the FDA legislation is despicable. This is supposed to be an award for community service, not a test of whether a youth supports the Campaign's political positions.

These youths are going to be used to promote the Campaign's pet legislation (the FDA bill), which might be fine if they were informed of the truth about the bill. If you are going to use youths for your own advocacy purposes, you must - at a minimum - inform them of the relevant details about the legislation. In this case, the most important detail is omitted: the fact that the legislation is actually favored by the nation's largest tobacco company. Thus, the Campaign is violating the principle of informed consent, making their misuse of these youths unethical.

That the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is deceiving its adult constituents and the rest of the public is bad enough. But to do this to youths is just where I have to draw the line and say: enough of this nonsense. This is really despicable.

It is, by the way, this same organization which has been called out for violating the Obama transition team's policy of not allowing lobbyists to serve in the field in which they lobbied. According to an Associated Press review, the Campaign's executive director - Bill Corr - has lobbied the Congress in support of the FDA legislation and is now on the team reviewing the Health and Human Services Department, which oversees the FDA. According to the review, "the group has spent $675,000 this year trying to influence policymakers." This is a clear violation of the transition team's ethics policies.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids appears to have the ethical integrity of ... well ... a tobacco company, to be frank. Which is ironic, because the hallmark of the Tobacco-Free Kids campaign for the FDA legislation is that we need to end the deception and unethical practices of the tobacco companies.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' lack of ethics, however, are far better than the tobacco companies' lack of ethics, because they are working for a noble cause, or at least the Campaign would like people to think. But the truth is that the cause they are working for is not so noble (protecting the profits of the tobacco companies at the expense of the public's health) and ethics are ethics, no matter who you are. Being an organization with supposedly noble interests does not absolve you of the responsibility to conduct your business in an ethical manner.

And misusing youths to promote a highly controversial and political federal policy is about as low as one can go. To my knowledge, even the tobacco companies have not attempted that one. At least they used adults to do their political bidding. Not so with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. If you can walk and you can talk, then you're eligible to be used to do the Campaign's political bidding (OK, so you have to be at least in middle school).

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