Monday, March 02, 2009

Tobacco-Free Kids, Philip Morris Deal to be Propelled Forward without Public Input; Legislation to be Introduced Today by Congressman Waxman

A deal struck between the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Philip Morris is being introduced as legislation today by Representative Henry Waxman and being placed on fast-forward, thus disallowing public input into the Congressionally-mediated deal despite widespread disapproval and resentment within the public health community.

According to a communication from Rep. Waxman's office, the legislation is scheduled to be introduced today and will be marked up in the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, thus bypassing the public hearing process and not allowing the deal to be tampered with.

The legislation is a dream come true for Philip Morris. The bill, which ought to be entitled the Marlboro Monopoly Act, essentially assures Philip Morris of the major share of the domestic cigarette market through a de facto freeze on the introduction of new (and potentially competitive) cigarette brands into the market. The legislation also provides an FDA seal of approval to cigarettes, promising to undermine years of public education about the hazards of cigarette smoking. Moreover, the legislation will provide de facto immunity to the cigarette companies, making it nearly impossible for plaintiffs to recover punitive damages and bringing the threat of serious litigation to an untimely death.

Furthermore, the legislation ends any possible use of a harm reduction strategy in tobacco control. It ends the possibility of developing what could be a truly safer cigarette. And perhaps worst of all, it transfers the fraud that the cigarette companies allegedly committed by deceiving people into thinking that some cigarettes were safer over to the federal government, which will now play the role of deceiving the public in the same way.

The legislation was developed through a secret, Congressionally-mediated negotiation between the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Philip Morris. That process led to a deal that is represented by the legislation being introduced today.

The Rest of the Story

This legislation is going to be the worst public health disaster of my lifetime. It is going to institutionalize tobacco production and use, put the government in the business of defrauding the American consumer, tie up much-needed FDA resources and hamper its ability to conduct its normal activities, undermine the very mission of the FDA, put the government in the position of approving and endorsing cigarettes for use by the American public, end litigation as a serious threat to the industry, end harm reduction as a tobacco control strategy, ensure that no truly safer cigarette will ever be developed, and decimate the state and local tobacco control movement.

Before undertaking such a serious and destructive action, one would hope that the legislation would be subject to public scrutiny. However, Rep. Waxman is apparently afraid that if the bill sees the light of public inspection and discussion, its gaping holes will be revealed.

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