Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Rest of the Story Called Watchdog of the Tobacco Control Movement

An interesting article in Youth Today refers to The Rest of the Story as the "watchdog" of the tobacco control movement.

The article reviews the financial records of the American Legacy Foundation and some aspects of the Foundation's actions and laments that there has been little oversight of the Foundation's actions. However, it notes that this blog has served as a sort of watchdog for the anti-tobacco movement, pointing out a number of hypocritical actions that the Foundation has taken.

According to the article's section entitled "A Blogger Watchdog":

"One of the few people who pay close attention to the foundation’s financial operations is Michael Siegel, a professor at the School of Public Health of Boston University. Siegel takes issue with the foundation’s unwavering decision not to give grants to anyone or any public health school that receives tobacco money."

"On his blog – “The Rest of the Story: Tobacco News Analysis and Commentary,” at http://www.tobaccoanalysis.blogspot.com – Siegel has taken the foundation to task for partnering with the likes of Time Warner, Conde Nast and Hearst, all of which rely heavily on tobacco advertising and “constantly bombard youth” with tobacco ads, and for funding research to bolster its claims of success against smoking."

"Siegel doesn’t have any complaint with most of the research the foundation underwrites, but thinks it is “hypocritical not to give money to institutions that are actively seeking money for tobacco programs” on the grounds that they receive tobacco money, considering the fact that the source of the foundation’s money is the settlement from the tobacco companies."

"In one of his postings, Siegel upbraided the foundation for allegedly funding a “front group,” Citizens’ Commission to Protect the Truth, to lobby in a lawsuit for more money for American Legacy’s truth campaign."

The Rest of the Story

Ironically, I think that in many ways, The Rest of the Story does serve as sort of a watchdog of the tobacco control movement, playing a role that the tobacco industry deliberately relinquished some time around 2000.

It was The Rest of the Story that highlighted the American Legacy Foundation's corporate partnerships with Time Warner, Hearst, and Conde Naste Publications -- all of which are responsible for massive youth exposure to tobacco advertising -- at the same time as the Foundation lamented the problem of youth exposure to tobacco advertising in magazines and in movies.

It was The Rest of the Story that revealed the American Legacy Foundation's funding of a front group -- The Citizen's Commission to Protect the Truth -- to support increased funding for the Foundation under the ruse that this was some sort of group of concerned citizens.

I should clarify that I did not criticize Legacy for deciding not to give money to organizations that accept tobacco money. I criticized Legacy for the hypocritical action of not giving money to anyone else who takes tobacco money, while at the same time pleading with the tobacco companies to give them more money to run Legacy's campaigns.

It is the American Legacy Foundation's hypocrisy over the past few years that The Rest of the Story has brought to the forefront.

To be clear, I believe that the "truth" campaign has been effective in reducing youth smoking and I have in fact supported the idea of establishing similar campaigns in all 50 states as well as enhancing funding for the national campaign. In fact, I have argued that wasting all our time and resources on FDA regulation of tobacco has detracted attention from where it really needs to be: finding a way to fund real, state-of-the-art, anti-tobacco media campaigns in all 50 states.

But that doesn't mean that the means used to achieve the end of preventing youth smoking should not be subject to scrutiny.

The comments section of the Youth Today article gives a brief but interesting insight into the mind of the anti-smoking activist. In these comments, Dr. Michael Cummings of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute calls me a "naysayer" for having the nerve to criticize as what I see as inconsistent, hypocritical, or unethical actions by the Foundation. What he is basically saying is that any criticism of anti-smoking groups is unwarranted and makes you a "naysayer." You must have blind allegiance to the ideology of the movement and if you dare to swerve off the prescribed path, you are a heretic who must be attacked and silenced.

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