Monday, October 05, 2009

Washington Times Editorial Blows Lid Off FDA Tobacco Law; The Cat is Now Out of the Bag As Public Starts to Realize Bill Was a Sham

An editorial published last week in the Washington Times has blown the lid off the FDA tobacco law, exposing it for what it truly is: a sham.

According to the editorial, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act's ban on cigarette flavorings accomplishes nothing because the only flavoring actually being used to recruit a substantial number of young smokers is menthol -- the one flavor which was exempted in the ban.

The editorial also argues that the law is especially toothless among the African American community, among which more than three-fourths of smokers choose menthol brands.

Furthermore, the editorial argues that the sole reason for the menthol exemption was to protect the financial interests of Philip Morris and retain its support for the legislation.

According to the editorial: "Until last week, all cigarette flavors were equal, then new Food and Drug Administration regulations made one flavor more equal than all the others. Because of a loophole written into the law, the FDA banned all flavored cigarettes except menthol. The only flavor sold by Philip Morris, the FDA's industry ally in passing legislation to allow the ban, just happens to be menthol. Sold as a way to protect public health, the ban is more flash than substance. At the time he signed the legislation President Obama crowed, "The decades-long effort to protect our children [has] emerged victorious. ... Today, change has come." Change came, but it didn't do much when it got here."

"Menthol is the No. 1 cigarette flavor used by underaged smokers and the most popular among all smokers. A menthol ban would have had many times the impact of banning all other flavors combined. The menthol exception makes the new regulation particularly toothless among blacks. Mentholated brands are preferred by three-quarters of black smokers. Blacks tend to be more likely to smoke and to smoke more. As a result, blacks suffer a disproportionate share of lung cancer." ...

"All the Big Brother health benefit rhetoric might have meant something if the single most popular flavored tobacco wasn't excluded. Instead we get government-expanding regulation virtually guaranteed not to have an impact. That's not change, that's business as usual."

The Rest of the Story

It's sad and it's true. Not only can the FDA tobacco law be criticized for creating a new federal bureaucracy, but it can also rightfully be criticized for creating a new federal bureaucracy that is going to accomplish nothing.

Not because federal intervention on the nation's leading cause of preventable disease is not warranted, but because the type of intervention specified by this law is nonsensical and toothless. The loopholes in the bill, which were successfully negotiated by Philip Morris and agreed to by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, ensure that the law will be full of sound and fury but signify nothing.

Shamefully, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids continues to fail to acknowledge that the legislation was negotiated between itself (representing public health interests) and Philip Morris. Just read the latest issue of Tobacco Reporter for another dishonest denial of the truth - which is that the bill was the result of a Congressionally-mediated negotiation between two primary groups - Tobacco-Free Kids and Philip Morris.

Honesty is not the Campaign's strong suit. It didn't used to be Philip Morris' strong suit either, but I believe that Philip Morris has now surpassed the Campaign in terms of honesty. Maybe that's not saying much, but it's disturbing that an organization that is supposedly fighting dishonesty on the part of Big Tobacco should be so dishonest itself.

Also disturbing is the Campaign's willingness to use the health of African-Americans as a negotiating tool. It doesn't seem to me that the health of African-Americans was something which the Campaign could legitimately choose to compromise in order to retain Philip Morris' support for the legislation. Especially when there were no African-American groups at the table to be included in the discussions. Should you not consult with groups representing the very community whose interests you are selling out at the negotiating table before you do so? Ethics is not the Campaign's strong suit either.

What then is the Campaign's strong suit? It's deceiving the American public and its own constituents, making them believe that Philip Morris had no role in the crafting of the legislation, making them believe that this law will protect children from addiction and save lives, when the truth is that Philip Morris was a central negotiator and that the law is toothless and accomplishes almost nothing.

I used to think that the Campaign's true slogan could be something like: "Using Deception and Dishonesty to Protect Kids." But the unfortunate thing is that a more apt slogan would be: "Using Deception and Dishonest and Not Even Protecting Kids, Especially African-American Ones."

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