Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Citizens' Commission to Protect the Truth Promotes Funding for American Legacy "Truth" Campaign, But Fails to Reveal that It Was Funded by Legacy

Commission Seeks Voluntary Funding from Tobacco Companies for Anti-Smoking Campaign

In a press release issued yesterday, the Citizens' Commission to Protect the Truth -- "a group composed of every former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare and Health and Human Services, with the exception of Michael Leavitt; every former U.S. Surgeon General; and every former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention" -- is promoting increased funding of the American Legacy Foundation's "truth" anti-smoking campaign and calling on the tobacco companies to voluntarily agree to provide funding for the "truth" campaign.

According to the press release: "The truth(R) youth anti-smoking campaign has the power to save hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in smoking-related health care costs and productivity losses ... We believe that if the truth(R) campaign continues for another five years (2009-2015) with similar effectiveness, there will be up to 500,000 fewer youth smokers with savings of up to $9.0 billion in future medical costs. ... Among its efforts, the Commission is demanding that big tobacco companies continue financing the Public Education Fund under the Master Settlement Agreement reached with the states in 1998. After March 2003, the tobacco companies (Phillip Morris (Altria), Brown and Williamson, R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard) were no longer required under the agreement to make annual payments to the Public Education Fund, which enables the American Legacy Foundation to conduct the truth(R) campaign. The payments are required only if the participating tobacco manufacturers control 99.05 percent of the cigarette market. Although participating companies no longer meet that threshold, their market share remains well above 90 percent."

The Rest of the Story

What the Citizens' Commission to Protect the "Truth" does not reveal in its press release is that it was funded by a grant from the American Legacy Foundation. According to the Citizens' Commission web site: "Principal funding for The Commission comes from the National Association of Attorneys General through a $1.5 million pass-through grant from the American Legacy Foundation."

Thus, the Citizens' Commission is little other than a front group created to have the appearance of an independent commission of "citizens" who are objectively struck by the success of the "truth" campaign and who therefore want to promote its funding, but which in reality was funded by the American Legacy Foundation to advocate for increased Legacy funding. In other words, what Legacy essentially did was fund a front group to advocate for itself. It is a front group because it fails to readily reveal its funding from Legacy. The public is kept in the dark about this financial relationship and is severely misled into thinking that the Citizens' Commission is some sort of private group that is completely independent of the American Legacy Foundation.

What this represents is deception and trickery of the lowest order. It is, in fact, a tactic that the tobacco companies used to employ all the time, and those of us in tobacco control blasted the companies for its use of front groups.

Now, however, it is the tobacco control movement that is using a front group, trying to elicit more funding for itself.

To make matters worse, the Citizens' Commission is seeking voluntary agreement by the tobacco companies to fund the "truth" campaign (even though the companies' obligations to fund the Public Education Fund under the Master Settlement Agreement ended in 2003). The hypocrisy of such an action is astounding, since it was the American Legacy Foundation which refused to grant funds to any public health school that took tobacco money.

Apparently, when a university takes tobacco money it is evil and unacceptable, but when Legacy itself takes tobacco money it is suddenly acceptable. What hypocrisy. Tobacco money is tainted if you are a university desperate to obtain funding for research, but the money suddenly becomes clean if you are the American Legacy Foundation and in desperate need of money to fund your own program.

Moreover, asking the tobacco companies to fund the "truth" campaign would emasculate it. The campaign could no longer employ hard-hitting advertisements that attack the tobacco companies because any such ads would result in the companies changing their minds and discontinuing their funding of the program. The tobacco companies would essentially be running the show. That's really the last thing in the world that we should want.

The rest of the story is that the Citizens' Commission is basically a front group for the American Legacy Foundation. It apparently receives funding primarily from the American Legacy Foundation to conduct its primary business which is to advocate for funding for the American Legacy Foundation. But without readily disclosing (such as in its press releases) its financial affiliation with Legacy.

I find this to be dishonest. It is hiding the truth, which is rather ironic considering that the so-called purpose of the group is to protect the truth and the campaign which the group aims to obtain funding for is the "truth" campaign. Nothing like using a little deception to try to get funding for a campaign to tell the truth.

Unfortunately, the Citizens' Commission has a long history of hiding its financial affiliation with Legacy and thus acting the way a traditional tobacco industry front group acts (hiding its financial ties to Big Tobacco so that the group doesn't lose legitimacy that it would give up if it were clear that the group advocating for Big Tobacco interests was not in fact independent from the cigarette companies).

In fact, the original press release announcing the formation of the Citizens' Commission declared that the former HHS secretaries, Surgeon Generals, and CDC directors were forming a citizens' commission to try to increase funding for the American Legacy Foundation's "truth" campaign, but did not disclose the fact that the Commission was in fact a financial outgrowth from the American Legacy Foundation.

It certainly wouldn't have sounded as impressive to state: "The American Legacy Foundation has decided to fund a group to try to obtain increased funding for the American Legacy Foundation." That just doesn't have the same sting to it. The truth can have a funny way of sometimes getting in the way.

But while it's wrong for the tobacco companies to let the truth get in the way, it's apparently not a problem as long as your goal is to stop tobacco use, rather than promote it.

I find it unfortunate that the American Legacy Foundation and the Citizens' Commission have set such low ethical standards for the rest of the tobacco control movement to follow. Sinking as low as essentially setting up a front group - which was a common tobacco industry tactic - is not exactly the kind of leadership we need right now in tobacco control.

Ironically, those who are trying to protect the "truth" need to start being a little more forthcoming with the truth.

If the leading organizations in tobacco control do not tell the truth, how can we expect to have any credibility in demanding that the tobacco companies end their own deceptive practices? It's like the pot calling the kettle black.

No comments: