Tobacco worthy of campaign agendas

By Gregory

The public health pariahs at the Daily are at it again — this time they criticize Bill Clinton, who criticized Bob Dole for not criticizing Big Tobacco in his most recent campaign swing through the South (“Tobacco’s ills have no place in campaign,” June 19).
Like it was straight from a Tobacco Institute press statement, the editorial maintained that “the people who produce tobacco are not entirely to blame. That responsibility lies mostly with smokers — for putting themselves in danger in the first place by ignoring repeated warnings.”
Oh, if the tobacco industry were so innocent.
The tobacco companies, currently under investigation by the Department of Justice, preparing to defend class-action lawsuits in all 50 states and facing off with eight state attorney generals seeking smoking-related health care costs, are now battling the Food and Drug Administration’s attempt to regulate tobacco products.
After years of research and studies (dating back to the 1950s), the FDA is on the verge of declaring nicotine an addictive drug. Such a move would enable the FDA to rigorously crack down on Big Tobacco’s advertising and promulgate rules and regulations to limit the harmful effects of smoking.
In order to avoid the FDA’s watchful gaze, Philip Morris Corp. is sponsoring preemptive legislation that includes a ban on non-tobacco-related items, such as hats and T-shirts, that carry tobacco brand names. Bans on mass-transit advertising and outdoor advertising within 1,000 feet of elementary and secondary schools and playgrounds are to occur, as well as vending machine bans.
This deal with the devil is bad politics, and supporters like Dole should confess and admit their sins. Clinton is right in making a campaign issue out of this. Tobacco is addictive, and cigarettes, for all effective purposes, are nothing more than glamorously packaged, nicotine-delivery devices that should be under the governance of the FDA.
The Daily’s editorial board irresponsibly opposes these efforts. Board members testily defend philosopher John Locke’s state of nature and Libertarian ideals by insisting, “But we would remind Clinton that, in a Democratic society, there’s only so much that can be done. … Free choice,” they continue, “must come before legislative limits.”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that last year tobacco was the leading cause of more than 200,000 fatal cases of heart disease. An estimated 3,000 kids start smoking every day.
Untold millions of Medicare dollars are spent treating the health effects and fallout from the tobacco industry.
These statistics are compelling evidence that we should take action now and not mistakenly bow down and worship the idol of “free choice.”
Most alarming, the editorial argues that the government should insure that relevant health information is available, but then “leave (the decision) in the public’s hands.”
This might be acceptable were it not for the fact that youths are most often the victims of the Marlboro man and Joe Camel.
“The tobacco industry spends $5 billion a year promoting the product,” says Mathea Falco, president of Drug Strategies, a nonprofit group promoting more effective approaches to the nation’s drug problem. “Ninety-five percent of adult daily smokers started before the age of 19. It means the tobacco industry recruits its addicts young.”
Although the cigarette companies vigorously deny targeting kids, their track record is none too good.
In editorials that ran in major newspapers across the country, James Morgan of Philip Morris purported, “Our advertising is focused on adult smokers only and meant to influence their brand choices.” Sure.
In 1979, the Tobacco Institute unveiled its first public relations campaign for children, an educational program designed for parents. Since that time, the name has changed from “Helping Kids Say No,” to “Action Against Access,” to “We Card.” However, the theme remained constant: forestall federal regulation.
The latest efforts on the part of Philip Morris are no different. Corporate representatives have argued in favor of company-sponsored legislation by implying that Big Tobacco would tie up more progressive congressional efforts for years in the court system. Is this really how a good corporate citizen behaves?
Unfortunately, the threat of blackmail is likely to deter true, honest and effective regulation by the FDA.
The biggest losers in this grudge match are the thousands of children who are hooked on smoking every day.
More aggressive legislative efforts and vigilant protection and enforcement on the part of the FDA are needed to level the playing field and give kids a fighting chance.
Smoking exacts a devastating toll on our society, and the Daily does a disservice to its readers in arguing that this is not a worthy campaign issue.
The latest presidential who-said-what debate is important, and Clinton is fully justified in holding Dole accountable for his lack of action on this matter.
Gregory Lauer is a senior majoring in civil engineering.