Big Tobacco Buys Bush’s Opposition to International Smoking Treaty
In the current edition of Mother Jones magazine, author Barry Yeoman outlines the work the Bush Administration is doing on behalf of Big Tobacco to derail another international accord: this one the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which has been in development since 1999. And Yeoman shows how Big Tobacco is directing and buying the Administration’s hatchet job on this treaty:
It was getting toward midnight when the phone rang in Thomas Novotny's hotel room in Geneva. The late-night call came from William Steiger, the new director of the U.S. Office of Global Health Affairs and the godson of George Bush Sr. Steiger insisted the U.S. delegates backpedal on several key issues affecting the tobacco industry. "We had to back down on any sort of agreement for restricting cigarette advertising, any sort of pro-tax stand, and any policies on secondhand smoke restrictions," Novotny recalls. Steiger also ordered him to oppose efforts to ban descriptive terms like "low-tar," "light," and "mild," which, according to the National Cancer Institute, deceive smokers into thinking that those brands deliver less tar and nicotine than others.
On other issues -- taxation, secondhand smoke, misleading labels like "low-tar" -- the Bush administration has brought the United States into line with positions staked out by the tobacco industry. Six weeks before the midnight phone call to Novotny, Philip Morris sent the administration a 32-page letter detailing the company's stance on the treaty. It outlined 11 provisions it wanted struck from the treaty.
A month after sending the letter, Philip Morris contributed $57,764 to the Republican Party. One week later, Novotny was ordered to back down at the Geneva negotiations, and the U.S. delegation began advocating for 10 of the 11 deletions advocated by Philip Morris.
As Yeoman predicted, after his article went to press for Mother Jones, the US in fact did oppose the treaty approved by nearly 170 nations, and will try and amend it in May, over the silly and transparent argument that the advertising bans called for in the treaty are contrary to the free speech protections in our constitution.
I guess we should be glad that Bush cares so much for the free speech rights of Philip Morris overseas to peddle death to someone else’s kids, while he restricts our rights here at home.
I gotta admit: the man does good work for those who pay him.