Monday, June 22, 2009

Dr. David Kessler Congratulates Philip Morris VP on FDA Legislation, Telling Him He Was Instrumental to the Bill's Success, and Praises Philip Morris

This Confirms that Alliance Between Public Health and Big Tobacco Led to FDA Tobacco Legislation

Kessler Admits that Legislation is Basically a Hoax in that There is No Intention or Expectation that FDA Regulation Will Lead to a Safer Product

Kessler's Praise of Philip Morris is Devastating Blow to Public Health and Huge Victory for Philip Morris

According to an article in the New York Times, former FDA head and current anti-smoking advocate Dr. David Kessler sent a message to recently retired Philip Morris senior vice president Steven Parrish congratulating him on the passage of the FDA tobacco legislation and praising him for his instrumental role in making the bill's enactment possible. Kessler wrote to Parrish: "Congratulations to you — you were key."

On NPR's Weekend Edition, Dr. Kessler publicly heaped praise upon Philip Morris and emphasized that public health and the largest element of Big Tobacco now see eye-to-eye and stand shoulder-to-shoulder in their desire to protect the health of the nation's children and adults.

Kessler told NPR: "I applaud Mr. Parrish's efforts. ... I think he deserves a lot of credit in making this shift. We agree on the legislation and I think that's what's important."

Interestingly, despite the bill's primary stated intention of making cigarettes safer by giving FDA the authority to regulate the design and consitituents of the product, Kessler admitted that it was neither the intention nor the expectation of the bill's supporters that the bill actually achieve this purpose. He readily admitted that there is no scientific way for the FDA to make the product safer -- it's not even possible, he said:

"I'm not sure that scientifically we're smart enough to know how to do that or that's possible when you're burning a tobacco leaf or you're inhaling all these chemicals that are very reinforcing."

According to the New York Times article, Philip Morris was "critical in making cigarette regulation come to pass." The article also made it clear that thanks to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' overwhelming zeal to get some bill passed, Philip Morris was given a seat at the negotiating table and played a role in crafting the bill as the specific provisions were hashed out: "For sure, it [the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' willingness to negotiate with Philip Morris] meant that Altria would have a seat at the table as the bill was being hashed out."

The Rest of the Story

Can you imagine? A chief public health and anti-smoking advocate is publicly praising Philip Morris for its support of public health!

While this shows that I was correct in my prediction that passage of this legislation would bring immense public relations benefits for Philip Morris, my opinion had been based on a belief that the company would create its own PR. I never imagined that public health advocates would create that public relations for Philip Morris by heaping praise upon the company for supporting public health.

This is truly a dream-come-true for Philip Morris. It now stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the public health community in the public light, and health advocates are making that happen. From what Dr. Kessler told the public, you would think that Philip Morris is now an equal partner in the movement to protect the public from the harms of tobacco. They are to be praised for their support of public health and they are now part of an alliance that sees eye-to-eye on federal tobacco policy.

Philip Morris could not possibly have even dreamed about such a public relations bonanza!

Dr. Stanton Glantz - a long-time tobacco control researcher and advocate - argued last week that the bill is a deal between the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Philip Morris and that one of the most damaging aspects of the legislation is that it legitimizes the tobacco industry, undermining years of public health progress: "'Basically, the public health people cut a deal with Philip Morris.' ... Glantz argues that the legislation legitimizes the tobacco industry at a time when 'legitimacy was being lost.'"

Dr. Kessler's remarks were incredibly revealing not only because he confirmed the alliance between public health and the largest company within Big Tobacco and the role of this alliance in making the FDA legislation possible, but also because he essentially confirmed that the bill is a huge hoax.

Dr. Kessler openly admitted that he has no expectation that the FDA will be able to make cigarettes safer. He said that it may not even be possible for the FDA to make cigarettes safer.

Well if that's the case, then the FDA is going to be approving cigarettes that are going to continue killing 400,000 or more people per year. Thus, FDA regulation is not going to make the product safer. All it will do, according to Kessler himself, is to allow the tobacco companies to continue to kill 400,000 people a year, except now with the government's official approval.

In other words, there are still going to be 400,000 deaths a year from cigarettes, and the bill's supporters know it, but they are instead telling the American people that the bill is going to save millions of lives by making cigarettes safer because FDA can take certain toxins out. But there is no expectation that is even possible, according to Kessler.

The end result is that cigarettes will continue to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans each year, except now they will be killing us with the blessing of the federal government and the public health groups. As a MarketWatch article predicts, FDA regulation will "make Big Tobacco even bigger."

The FDA tobacco legislation is a hoax because the politicians and health groups supporting the legislation have been telling the public that under this bill, the FDA will make cigarettes safer by removing certain of the toxic ingredients from the product. Now we find out from Kessler himself that there is no expectation that cigarettes will be made safer and that he doesn't even believe it is possible that removing certain ingredients will make cigarettes safer.

It truly is a hoax. And a hoax of massive proportions, I would add.

Just look at what supporters of the legislation are telling the American people. Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) boasted that because of this legislation, cigarette manufacturers will "be forced to stop using some of the most dangerous ingredients." As if that makes any difference. There are more than 10,000 chemicals in cigarettes and there is no evidence that removing "some" of the most dangerous ones will result in a safer product. But this scientific fact did not stop Senator Dodd from pulling the wool over the eyes of the public and contributing to the public hoax.

Even worse, look at what Senator Kennedy told the American public. He boasted that the legislation will "help addicted smokers quit" and that it will "require manufacturers to make tobacco products less toxic and less addictive for those who continue to use them." But the legislation does nothing to help addicted smokers quit. There is no support of smoking cessation programs. There is no money for smoking quitlines or any inteventions that will help smokers quit. There are no funds for campaigns to motivate smokers to quit. In fact, the only relevant power the bill gives the FDA is to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes. However, we know from the scientific evidence that this will just result in smokers smoking more not less, as they need to compensate to maintain a constant dose of nicotine.

As John Jonik points out in a letter to the editor in the Seattle Times, Senator Kennedy's false promise is merely a continuation of the tobacco industry's fradulent statements about the benefits of low-nicotine cigarettes. In fact, Senator Kennedy's claim is probably worse because while the tobacco companies merely implied that "light" cigarettes might be less addictive, Kennedy is clearly asserting that low-nicotine yield products will be less addictive. Why is it that the tobacco companies were found guilty of fraud for making the same statement (in an even less assertive way) that Kennedy is now making?

Senator Kennedy's assertion that the bill will require manufactureres to make tobacco products less toxic is also false - another hoax. As Dr. Kessler admitted, there is no expectation that FDA regulation of certain of the ingredients in tobacco will be able to make cigarettes safer. Senator Kennedy, too, is pulling the wool over the eyes of the American public.

Another important implication of this story is that it confirms, based on reliable inside sources, that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has lied to its constituents and the public about the true role of Philip Morris in these negotiations. The Campaign has led us to believe that Philip Morris played little to no role in crafting the legislation and that its support for the legislation was essentially a coincidence -- they just happened to support the legislation that happened to come out of Waxman and Kennedy's offices.

Now we have quite reliable confirmation from inside sources that Philip Morris indeed played a critical role in the process. Philip Morris had a seat at the negotiating table. Philip Morris' support was deemed critical to the bill's passage. Philip Morris was involved in the crafting of the legislation as it was hashed out, and the companies' acceptance of the specific provisions of the bill was apparently viewed as essential to the bill's success.

In other words, the legislation represents a secret back-room deal between the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids ("representing" the public health community) and Philip Morris.

This is absolutely not the story that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has been telling, and it is obviously not what the Campaign wanted us to find out.

Even R.J. Reynolds confirmed that Philip Morris had a role in crafting the legislation: "R.J. Reynolds said one of its early objections to the legislation was that Philip Morris had a role in crafting it."

There can be no more denials by the Campaign and the other health groups. It is eminently clear what happened. It was the support of Philip Morris for the legislation that was the critical factor that made this bill possible. And therefore, Waxman and Kennedy deemed that the provisions in the bill would have to be approved by Philip Morris first, to make sure that the company would still support the legislation. That was why Philip Morris was invited to the table! There would have been no other reason to invite Philip Morris to the table unless Kennedy and Waxman needed a gauge as to how Philip Morris would treat the various provisions in the bill. Could Philip Morris live with these provisions or not? That -- and not the extent of protection of the public's health -- was the key factor that determined the final look of the legislation.

And alas, this is why it is nonsensical for Kessler to praise Philip Morris. The opportunity to be governed by a regulatory framework that you help to design is a dream-come-true for any corporation. It is not some sort of sacrifice that Philip Morris made because it has the health of the public as its concern.

Regulation does not equate to a loss of sales and profits. Regulation does not translate into reduced consumption of a product. What regulate actually means is "to permit." You are permitting the product to be sold, with some restrictions. The key thing is not whether the product is regulated, but how it is regulated and the extent of restrictions placed on the regulator. In this case, Philip Morris' seat at the table ensured that those restrictions would be heavy and that the regulation would never substantially endanger actual tobacco sales or profits.

Other companies would just dream of being given the opportunity to write the law that would govern their own regulation. In some cases, that has occurred, and where it has, it has led to the inability of regulators to properly protect the public's health. In this case, the fox was not only guarding the henhouse, the fox was allowed to write the regulations concerning the guarding of the henhouse.

Late last week, Dr. Stanton Glantz criticized the legislation specifically because it allows the fox to guard the henhouse. As Glantz pointed out, "The bill creates a 12-member advisory board through which all regulations will flow. Tobacco industry representatives will hold three nonvoting seats. 'Putting three guys on this committee would be a little bit like putting three mobsters on the Department of Justice committee on organized crime,' Glantz said, echoing the sentiment of other strong tobacco-control advocates."

This represents an unprecedented special protection for Big Tobacco (rather than ending special protections for Big Tobacco, as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids claims in its propaganda).

Can you imagine if Merck had been allowed to sit on the FDA panel that was considering whether or not to take Vioxx off the market? Can you imagine if Pfizer were allowed to sit at the FDA table as it considers whether Chantix is causing severe adverse effects and whether special warnings or stronger actions - such as removal from the market- are required?

The rest of the story is that the FDA tobacco legislation is a successful hoax played on the American people by an alliance of health groups, politicians, and the nation's largest tobacco company. It was largely crafted by Philip Morris. It was a Congressionally-mediated deal struck between the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Philip Morris. The support of Philip Morris was deemed critical and Waxman, Kennedy, and the Campaign allowed Philip Morris to have a seat at the table because its approval of the details of the legislation was essential: otherwise, the company's support for the legislation would not be ensured. The result is a bill that contains numerous provisions that tie FDA's hands, give unprecedented special protections to Big Tobacco, and create a package that allows politicians and health groups to tell the public that they are really doing something to make cigarettes safer and to cut smoking rates when the truth is that they are aware that the bill will not make cigarettes safer and its provisions do not allow FDA to take the actions that would be necessary to substantially cut smoking rates.

The ultimate, and most ironic, truth is that in heaping praise upon Philip Morris, Dr. Kessler is acting as a great friend to Big Tobacco, and not as an anti-tobacco advocate as we have come to know him. He has single-handedly given Philip Morris the legitimacy and positive public image as a socially responsible and health-concerned corporation that it so deeply craves. He has undermined years of public health efforts to portray the tobacco companies in the negative light that they deserve for their long history of actions that have undermined the public's health.

But it's not all Dr. Kessler's fault. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids really made this all possible, and essentially set up Dr. Kessler for this grave mistake, by agreeing to the secret negotiations with Philip Morris in the first place, without inclusion or representation of anyone else in the public health community who might have had a broader and more enlightened viewpoint.

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