ALF's Tobacco Money Contradictions

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Dr. Siegel has given permission for us to reprint this important letter he posted to the Tp-Talk discussion group about tensions within the anti-smoking movement and apparent tensions among the stated goals of the American Legacy Foundation, which was created with money from the Master Settlement Agreement between government and tobacco companies, to educate the public about the dangers of cigarettes:

I had thought this problem had been taken care of, but according to a press release put out by the American Legacy Foundation today and a quote from Attorney General Sorrell (who I believe is a Legacy Foundation Board member), the Legacy Foundation is apparently still seeking tobacco industry funding to continue its "truth" campaign:

"The industry publicly claims to support youth tobacco prevention programs," Sorrell said. "Well, here's its opportunity to step up by continuing to fund Truth. Forget about the MSA sunset provision."

In other words, the Legacy Foundation is asking the tobacco companies for voluntary donations to support an anti-smoking campaign. This is exactly the type of thing that tobacco control practitioners have vociferously opposed for years. In fact, it's exactly what the Foundation itself, in its policies regarding grants to institutions, opposes. The Foundation requires Schools of Public Health that receive Legacy funding to promise _never_ to accept tobacco industry funding, and they are not eligible for such funding if the School currently takes tobacco money. I am in fact personally not eligible for Legacy Foundation funding because my School refuses to sign a letter stating that it agrees never to take tobacco industry money.

So let me get this straight: It's terribly wrong for another organization to take tobacco money to conduct what may be important research and tobacco control activities, but it's OK for the Legacy Foundation to take tobacco money for its own purposes. If that's not the example given in the dictionary under the definition of "hypocrisy," it should be.

The idea of the tobacco industry voluntarily funding an anti-smoking campaign run by public health practitioners is absurd. What a wonderful opportunity for the industry to improve its public image, gain public favor, and have a public relations bonanza. And at the same time, the industry gets to control the campaign, and ensure that it is not truly effective. Even if the funding agreement were to say that the industry is to have no control over the content of the ads, it doesn't matter. If the industry is voluntarily funding the campaign, the industry can pull the plug at any time. It has effective control over the campaign. It would be a win-win situation for the industry, and a terrible blow for tobacco control.

Frankly, it's disgusting to think that one of our leading tobacco control organizations is willing to join hand-in-hand with the tobacco industry for what the industry would certainly claim to be a "common purpose."

I don't know where our ethics, principle, and integrity have gone in tobacco control. As I sit here today, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is working alongside Philip Morris to promote legislation that would protect the company's market share and profits and protect it from liability, and the American Legacy Foundation is doing everything it can to get Philip Morris to work alongside it -- so that together, they can try to keep kids from smoking and ensure that smoking remains an adult activity.

I don't know who I'm fighting anymore. It used to be that we were fighting the tobacco companies, led by Philip Morris. Now we have to fight several major health organizations that are teaming up with Philip Morris: most notably, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and its jealous counterpart, the American Legacy Foundation -- which apparently is only too eager to join hands with Philip Morris as well. It's becoming a contest to see who can get in bed with Philip Morris the quickest. I guess money can make even the ugliest entity look attractive.

I am truly discouraged by all of this -- and I really believe that the tobacco control movement as we know it is coming to an end.

What is left is a movement run by a few organizations that are positioning themselves for their own financial gain (at the expense of the grassroots movement that had made tobacco control as successful as it was) and that have completely lost sight of the most basic principles of public health, ethical standards, and integrity, in order to achieve their narrow, short-sighted, and devastating (for public health) aims.

Michael Siegel, MD, MPH
Associate Professor
Social and Behavioral Sciences Department
Boston University School of Public Health

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