Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Article in Slate's The Big Money is Right on the Money: Calls FDA Tobacco Legislation Racist, Protectionist, Cynical, and Misguided

Published today at Slate's The Big Money is one of the most insightful and apposite articles about the FDA tobacco legislation that I have ever seen. Paul Smalera dissects the FDA legislation with a keen, sharp and accurate knife, revealing the truth behind the legislation which is almost assuredly going to be passed by the Senate today or tomorrow. The piece also appears on Reuters.

Every tobacco control practitioner should read the article in its entirety, but a few of the most salient quotes from the article need to be highlighted:

"Other tobacco companies have taken to calling the bill the "Marlboro Monopoly Act of 2009." It's hard to fathom where Congress is finding the political cover necessary to pass an industry-sponsored love letter like this one. But it's coming from Philip Morris' partner in crafting the legislation: a nonprofit anti-smoking organization called Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids."

"Philip Morris found a willing partner in the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. It was among the more moderate anti-smoking groups, and some of its top staff had worked for Sen. Tom Daschle, so they were well-versed in the art of legislative compromise. The existence of an agreement between Philip Morris and the Campaign is how Rep. Henry Waxman, the bill's main sponsor, has justified the perverseness of Philip Morris' support for a supposed anti-smoking bill."

"'Don't let perfect be the enemy of good,' has been the old saw the administration uses to admonish interest groups dissatisfied with compromise legislation. But opponents of this bill on both sides are asking, What's the enemy of terrible? Isn't it this bill, which is racist, protectionist, cynical, and misguided?"

"The next most popular flavored cigarette [after menthol], clove, accounts for .09 percent of the market. Those cigarettes will be banned under the bill. Indonesia, which provides 99 percent of the clove cigarettes to the U.S. market, has complained to the U.S. trade representative about the disparity with menthol. If Indonesia brings a protectionist complaint to the World Trade Organization, it would compel our government to prove cloves were banned for health reasons. Namely, the United States would have to show that the flavor of cloves enhances cigarettes' addictive properties. If it can't, the ban could be considered a trade violation. It's a lose-lose proposition. If the United States proves it banned clove cigarettes strictly for health reasons, it would be admitting that menthol cigarettes, manufactured domestically, are getting a free pass despite their clovelike increased health risks. Which puts the FDA, as the tobacco regulator, in the position of justifying a ban on cloves but not menthols. ... In other words, the United States will have two choices in the above scenario, both hairy: protect the FDA's independence by admitting it banned cloves but not menthols only to protect Philip Morris' market share or let the FDA manufacture an explanation, contrary to recent studies, by which menthol cigarettes, which are used to lure children to smoke, are just as safe as unflavored cigarettes."

"Matthew Myers, the Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids' director, continues to play the fool. He told ABC News, "Our hope is that the Senate HELP committee will resist all of those efforts to weaken the legislation." It's hard to even understand what Myers means—the doublespeak surrounding the bill is so great its passage will surely be hailed as a victory for anti-tobacco forces. And if Congress could find a way to make the bill any weaker, even the Marlboro Man himself couldn't help but crack a smile."

The article also quotes me as stating: "The bill lets the tobacco companies produce and market the cigarettes and the FDA approve them. The ramifications of this bill go far beyond tobacco control. The bill completely undercuts and undermines the entire system of federal public health regulation in this country."

The Rest of the Story

This is a great article that gets to the truth behind the bill: that it was a deal struck between Philip Morris and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and that it contains numerous compromises inserted specifically to protect the financial well-being of the nation's largest cigarette company at the expense of the public's health.

The article also exposes that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has apparently been disingenuous about the fact that it negotiated this bill with Philip Morris, a critical fact that the Campaign has omitted from every communication to its constituents about this legislation during the past two legislative sessions.

The article also astutely reveals the doublespeak being used by the health groups supporting this legislation. Doublespeak has become so much a part of the Campaign's communications on this issue that it should consider re-naming itself the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Smalera's description of the paradox surrounding the bill's inconsistent treatment of menthol and clove is also insightful. Smalera is correct, as the government will be in the absurd position of having to argue either that menthol serves no role in enticing and addicting smokers or that it gave domestic tobacco companies a free pass. The latter would seemingly justify Indonesia's complaint that the legislation violates trade agreements as it is discriminatory and protectionist.

But far and away, the most significant revelation in this article is that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids allowed Philip Morris to join in the crafting of this legislation. This means that the Campaign has been dishonest, deceiving its consituents, other anti-smoking groups, and the American public about the true nature of this legislation. As recently as last week, the Campaign publicly denied that there was any truth to the allegations that the bill was co-crafted by Philip Morris. (With its usual doublespeak, this is something that the Campaign had already twice admitted to in the past, but it apparently still thinks it can pull the wool over the eyes of its own constituents and fellow anti-smoking organizations.)

When the legislation passes the Senate later today or tomorrow, it will not only be a devastating defeat for the public's health. It will be a huge blow to the ethical integrity of the tobacco control movement.

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