Imagine a world in which every cigarette company — not just the big ones that have settled lawsuits — have to abide by the same set of rules. Manufacturing standards would be established by the F.D.A., standards that might well, over time, make cigarettes at least a little less harmful. Imagine a world in which advertising and marketing disappears completely, where cigarettes have to be placed out of sight in retail stores, where warning labels on cigarette packs are as big and scary as they are in much of Europe, where smoking in public places is outlawed everywhere, where cessation programs are national in scope and where efforts to reduce youth smoking are no longer sporadic or piecemeal. Imagine a world in which tobacco policy evolves out of a sustained national effort rather than from the vagaries of litigation, the half-measures of the M.S.A. or the attitudes of state officials.
That's one of the visions explored in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. Another is that any moves toward regulating the tobacco industry will play right into their hands. Some anti-tobacco advocates are still feeling the burn from the last effort to have the FDA regulate the tobacco industry - a battle that wound up in the US Congress and eventually a less satisfactory (for some) Master Settlement Agreement (MSA).
In interviews with Steve Parrish of Altria (the parent of Phillip Morris), Joe Nocera tees up the next big push for FDA regulation of the tobacco industry: this time championed by Phillip Morris. What's in for them? As one observer described their attitude toward regulation: 'Just tell us what the rules are and we'll beat the pants off the competition.' Problem is, their competition believes the same thing (they WILL get their pants beat off).
Nocera raises several questions if what's good for Phillip Morris is good for Public Health?
- Would regulation increase its legitimacy as a business and thus increase the market value of Altria?
- Would it make it possible for tobacco companies to more aggressively market 'low harm' tobacco products - like smokeless tobacco - by mandating product and health claims as well as marketing policies? [see comment above]
Or will public health stand by and watch while Phillip Morris beats the pants off the smokeless tobacco marketers now with Taboka and other products (don't believe this isn't a gambit). And will the anti-tobacco forces rally against the use of African roots - and the menthol option - of Taboka as they rallied against Uptown cigarettes? Don't think that's not being tracked.
One group of public health advocates take the position: If Phillip Morris (Altria) is for FDA regulation, then I'm against it! People like Stan Glanz (hmm, no links to a quick bio - major international tobacco control advocate) are on record as saying to leave the problem of "putting the tobacco companies out of business" to the grassroots guerrilla tobacco fighters who have proved themselves over the past 20 years.
Others want to seize any opportunity to limit tobacco company marketing and reduce through regulation the public health carnage cigarettes leave in their wake. Matt Myers: If you had a product that addicted 45 million people and killed none of them, I would take that deal. Then you'd have coffee!
The article comes at a time when Phillip Morris is setting their lobbying and public relations strategy for the next Congressional session in 2007. This article describes some of the discussions already going on; there is time for you to make up your own mind.
But the history and lessons learned of attempting to regulate and negotiate with the tobacco industry should lead to a reflective moment among those taking similar types of positions to turn the tide of the obesity epidemic. Unintended consequences are sometimes the result of not heeding the lessons. And there are several of them just below the surface in the latest playbook. #1: Look like you're playing nice.
President Bill Clinton speaks to the media at a press conference for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Joining Clinton, from left, Donald R. Knaus, President of Coco-Cola; Dawn Hudson, President of PepsiCo; Dr. Robert Eckel, President of the American Heart Association; Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Ralph Crowley, Chairman of the American Beverage Association; Susan Neely, President of the American Beverage Association; Gilbert Caggagne, President of Cadbury Schweppes Americas. [Link]
Update: A reader wrote in to note that I misspelled Stan's last name - no wonder no bio. It's Stan Glantz, and thanks Barbara!