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George W. Bush has promised to unravel the "old system of mandate, regulate, and litigate."

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United States

The Tobacco Presidency

by Toby Eglund

MARCH 19, 2001. A group of quixotic, anti-tobacco lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill in the U.S. House of Representatives last week that would classify nicotine as a drug and tobacco products as drug delivery devices, and finally give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the unquestioned authority to regulate them. Most importantly, the legislation would allow the FDA to restrict marketing, especially to youths.

The legislation, which stalled last year under Clinton, is sure to fail now under George W. Bush, who has promised to abolish the "old system of mandate, regulate, and litigate."

Bush's Burning Love
karl roveBush has had a long and loving relationship with tobacco. As Texas Governor, some of Bush's closest aides were allies or employees of Philip Morris. Senior White House advisor Karl Rove, whom the National Review called "the governor's Svengali," was on the Philip Morris payroll from 1991 to 1996 as a paid political consultant and tactician.

Kirk Blalock, a Philip Morris public-relations official, is a White House liaison to the business community. Philip Morris vice president Thomas Collamore, who worked for the elder President Bush in the White House and the Commerce Department, arranged the tobacco giant's donations for the younger Bush's inauguration.

And during the Florida vote controversy, the personal lawyer for Florida Secretary of State and Bush supporter Katherine Harris, was J.M. Stipanovich, who was also an attorney for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

Tobacco interests contributed $6.7 million to the Republican Party's 2000 campaign, including roughly $90,000 donated to the Bush campaign. Democrats received $1.4 million from tobacco interests. The tobacco industry will get what it pays for, according to "Buying Influence, Selling Death, How Big Tobacco Harms Public Health," released last week by anti-tobacco activists. The report found a "strong correlation" between political contributions to U.S. lawmakers and subsequent voting patterns.

Beyond the quick death of the FDA empowering legislation, Bush is expected to fulfill his campaign promise to end the massive anti-tobacco federal lawsuit launched by the Clinton Justice Department. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that tobacco companies are so confident of this that they claim to have no plans to ask for the suit's withdrawal. "We are not lobbying on this at all," says Philip Morris spokeswoman Peggy Roberts.

Targeting Global Minorities
Meanwhile, in the United States alone, smoking kills more than 400,000 people a year and is the leading preventable cause of death. About 3,000 young people start smoking in the United States each day, and, according to some figures, about one-third of them face premature deaths from tobacco-related disease.

smokersWorldwide, tobacco-related illnesses kill about 4 million people a year, a toll that is expected to more than double over the next decade. Compare this to the AIDS epidemic, in which two million people die annually and over 35 million people are infected. Those figures are also rising.

In the U.S., those who have the highest rates of addiction, and lowest success rate in quitting, are generally racial and ethnic minorities, and the poor. Gays and lesbians are also hard hit, having been targeted since 1992 when the first tobacco ad appeared in the gay magazine Genre. Smoking by women is on the upswing as teenage girls have become prey to tobacco advertisers.

In the next decade, more than two-thirds of the global victims will be in poor countries as tobacco companies pursue new markets there to offset downturns in smoking in the United States and other rich countries. Big tobacco needs about 5,000 new smokers daily to take the place of smokers who die or quit.

Studying the effects of AIDS on the developing world has shown us how health epidemics, beyond creating personal misery, can devastate tentative national economies and emerging democracies everywhere. Martha Ainsworth, Senior Economist of the Development Research Group of the World Bank, has said Asian "miracle economies" were, in part, brought down by high mortality rates from HIV/AIDS which hits the most productive members of society, "threatening to eliminate or reverse development gains and place a huge burden on health systems."

Tobacco related illnesses, which currently have a combined mortality rate of AIDS and tuberculosis, also have a profound impact on developing countries.

Controlling Rogue Tobacco
In response, in May 1999, the United Nation's World Health Assembly asked the World Health Organization (WHO) to draft an international convention on tobacco control. The treaty will guide U.N. member countries in framing policy and developing legislation for issues like advertising and sponsorship by tobacco companies, pricing, taxation, smoke-free public spaces, and smuggling. The latter is a growing problem because the tobacco industry increasingly resembles a rogue state as it uses every dirty trick in the book to fight global anti-smoking initiatives and WHO.

From the end of the eighties through the nineties, tobacco industry documents reveal they put WHO under covert surveillance, infiltrated the organization with their own employees, and subverted others. The industry mounted disinformation campaigns by hiring ostensibly independent critics to attack health organizations in the press, and lull developing countries into complacency by characterizing smoking as a first world concern. In more conventional tactics, they also lobbied to cut WHO's funding, and attempted to distort the findings of scientific studies showing tobacco's ill-effects.

yackNevertheless, big tobacco's campaign has failed to break the back of global anti-tobacco advocates. South Africa is a case in point. Even as it fights a growing AIDS epidemic, and struggles to maintain a fragile democracy, it has managed to launch an effective campaign against smoking. At a regional Africa meeting on tobacco control in Johannesburg, WHO executive director Derek Yach recognized the country's success in lowering tobacco consumption over the last eight years.

Related links:

For a detailed examination of how Corporate donors seek return on investment in Bush campaign.

For a peek at the dark underbelly of Tobacco Companies Linked To Criminal Organizations In Lucrative Cigarette Smuggling.

For anti-tobacco activist resources and information check out Smokescreen Action Network.

Are Minorities Targeted by Big Tobacco?

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