In a press release issued on Tuesday, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids misleads the American public by telling us that the proposed FDA tobacco legislation requires tobacco companies to remove harmful ingredients from their cigarettes and by implying that all harmful ingredients would have to be removed.
According to the press release: "Among other things, the legislation would crack down on tobacco marketing and sales to kids; require that tobacco companies disclose the contents of tobacco products and remove harmful ingredients; stop tobacco companies from misleading the public about health risks of their products; and require larger, more effective health warnings on cigarette packs."
The statement under contention is the claim that "the legislation would...require that tobacco companies...remove harmful ingredients."
The Rest of the Story
The rest of the story is that the legislation would not require tobacco companies to remove harmful ingredients. There is nothing in the bill that requires tobacco companies to remove the harmful ingredients from their products.
What the bill does is authorize the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require the reduction or elimination of certain constituents. However, there is no requirement that the FDA actually demand the elimination of the harmful ingredients in cigarettes.
In fact, there are a number of provisions in the bill that give the tobacco industry tremendous power to block the FDA from actually requiring the elimination of harmful ingredients from cigarettes. For one thing, the bill grants Congress veto power - with a simple majority vote - over any significant FDA regulation, such as removing a cigarette ingredient. This puts the decisions about the safety of tobacco products into the hands of a political rather than a scientific body (although one could easily argue that FDA itself has become more of a political than a scientific body). It also allows the tobacco industry to use its power and influence in Congress to block any requirement for removal of ingredients that it does not like.
There is an immense difference between a bill that would require the companies to remove harmful ingredients and one that merely authorizes the FDA to require the removal of these ingredients. By failing to tell the public about this distinction, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is pulling the wool over the public's eye, continuing its long-standing campaign of deception in support of this legislation.
The second part of the rest of the story is that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' statement is also misleading because it suggests that the FDA legislation would require tobacco companies to remove all of the harmful ingredients from cigarettes. The bill would do nothing of the sort and it in fact precludes the FDA from taking such an action by prohibiting the FDA from banning the sale of any particular class of tobacco product.
Stating that the bill would require that tobacco companies remove harmful ingredients from their cigarettes implies - at least to a large segment of the public - that the bill would eliminate the harmful ingredients from cigarettes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is there no requirement for any constituent of tobacco to be removed, but the best FDA could do is to require the removal of some of, or more likely a few of, the constituents. Contrary to what the Campaign is suggesting, the bill is not going to result in the elimination of harmful ingredients from cigarettes.
And by the way, the most harmful ingredient in cigarettes, by far, is the tobacco. And the bill precludes the FDA from requiring the removal of that ingredient.
Not only does the legislation fail to require tobacco companies to remove the harmful ingredients from their products, but there is, in fact, one provision in the bill that precludes the FDA from requiring cigarette companies to completely remove perhaps the most harmful component - the addictive nicotine - from their products.
The continued deception of the public about the facts relating to the proposed FDA tobacco legislation is, in my opinion, unethical behavior on the part of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. And I find it ironic that in an effort to promote legislation that it claims is intended to prevent deception by the tobacco companies, Tobacco-Free Kids is using deception of its own:
In order to prevent deception by the tobacco companies, we're going to deceive and mislead the American people. Why is it that deception by the tobacco companies is heinous, but deception by an anti-smoking group is acceptable.
The answer, of course, is that while the tobacco companies are working towards an evil end, the FDA legislation is promoting a noble end - the protection of the financial interests of Philip Morris. Wait a minute, even that reasoning doesn't quite work.
My point is that in using deception to pursue its legislative goals, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is acting as unethically as the tobacco companies. We are no better than the tobacco industry if we continue to use deception to promote our goals. In this case, the Campaign is not even using deception to promote a shared goal of the public health community. It is using deception to promote the chief legislative priority of the nation's leading cigarette company -- a legislative goal that is opposed by many of us in the public health community.
Don't get me wrong - even if the Campaign were using deception to support what I perceived as a worthwhile measure, it would still be unethical and irresponsible. It just adds insult to injury when the leading anti-smoking group is using deception and promoting the financial interests of Philip Morris at the same time.
I'm all for demanding an end to tobacco industry deception of the public. But I think if we're going to make that demand, we need to first put an end to our own deception of the public. Otherwise, isn't this just the pot calling the kettle black?