What is it that makes previously smart people abandon all their common sense and depart from their general worldviews when it comes to tobacco?
My first impression of Representative Waxman was overwhelmingly positive as a result of my first exposure to him being a report on politics and science that he commissioned which detailed the lack of evidence in American government policy. Read this from his criticism on abstinence based policy:
The Bush administration distorted science-based performance measures when testing whether abstinence-only programs were proving effective. The administration insisted that the Centers for Disease Control, the federal agency sponsoring abstinence education, measure success by the participation rates and attitudes of teens attending the programs, not the pregnancy rates of those teens, as had been the previous standard.
In addition to being ineffective at deterring teen pregnancy and disease, the Waxman study reports that federally-funded abstinence-only programs teach children false scientific information. “Eleven of the thirteen curricula most commonly used by [federally funded abstinence-only programs] contain major errors and distortions of public health information,” says the study.
Some of the misinformation suggests poor research and editing by curricula authors. For example, one curriculum explains that “twenty-four chromosomes from the mother and twenty-four chromosomes from the father join to create this new individual;” the actual number is twenty-three.
Most of the errors, however, appear to stem from an ideological effort to scare young people about sex, contraception, and abortion. The treatment of condoms is one example. The U. S. Center for Disease Control has found that “latex condoms provide an essentially impermeable barrier to particles the size of STD pathogens.” Still, one abstinence curriculum sought to cast doubt on the trustworthiness of condoms.
The same person who was behind that report has become an influential figure in promoting continuing ignorance when it comes to tobacco, and appears not to realize that there is no real difference between abstinence based policy in sex or in smoking. They both damage public health and diminish personal welfare.
In his latest gladflication, Waxman rails at the tobacco industry for substituting colors for words to identify their different brands. Recent regulations have made it illegal to use words like mild or smooth, so companies that have products which have those words in the title needed to come up with some way to communicate to their customers which brands were which. So now for example Salem Lights are Salems in a light green package.
As Waxman says: “this is a transparent attempt by the tobacco industry to evade the law and mislead consumers” and “The FDA should conduct a thorough science-based review and then ban any deceptive use of colors.”
Though one might have made the case as few years ago, with the onset of current anti-tobacco activism within the FDA, in regards to tobacco harm reduction, to put the name of that agency and the phrase science-based in the same sentence is a bit of a stretch.
What is happening here is that new tobacco regulations are creating conditions in which companies can only respond in extremely limited and predictable ways, and then those few responses are labelled as attempts to avoid those conditions. (For instance, since smokeless products are not allowed to be marketed as harm reduction, the only way to describe them is as for use when you cannot smoke, which is then criticized as promoting dual use and undermining smoke free regulations).
If Waxman cared as much about health as he says he does about science, he should be working to create conditions which both allow tobacco companies, and possibly compel them, to honestly describe their safer products as safer, and have them sell them as such.
-Paul L. Bergen