Has Bush ‘Flushed Away’ Anti-Smoking Efforts?, USA Today Editorial Asks
The "once-beleaguered tobacco industry has seen its fortunes flip" since President Bush assumed office, a USA Today editorial maintains, adding that the Bush administration has left "footprints that mark a sharp retreat from Clinton-era anti-smoking strategies." The editorial states that the moves, while "subtle," add up to "significant change," which has "flushed away" years of "hard-won progress" against teen smoking and "false" tobacco industry health claims. For example, the editorial points out that Attorney General John Ashcroft has said that he would not allocate additional funding for the Justice Department's "groundbreaking" lawsuit against the tobacco industry -- despite warnings that without adequate funding, department lawyers would have to "abando[n]" the suit -- a "gift to Big Tobacco." After "promising" last fall to negotiate a "strong" international tobacco treaty, the U.S. treaty delegation in May "retreated from tough positions on several fronts," the editorial adds. The editorial also points out that while HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson announced in March that he favored federal regulation of tobacco, the White House "hasn't pushed" Congress on the issue, "meaning the industry faces few restrictions in marketing new products." In addition, Bush called for a 5% cut in the federal Office on Smoking and Health's budget, which increased from $20 million to $102 million during the Clinton administration, a reduction that "strikes at the heart of smoking prevention programs in the states," the editorial adds. Citing the $7 million that the tobacco industry has given to GOP campaign coffers during the past two years, the editorial concludes, "The Bush administration will have to choose which it values more: public health or political donations. So far the answer is disappointing" (USA Today, 6/1).
However, in an accompanying opinion piece, Thompson maintains that Bush and HHS consider youth smoking "unacceptable," adding that the president remains "committed to keeping America the global leader in preventing cigarettes from getting into the hands of minors as well as helping smokers break the chains of addiction." He cites Bush' proposed FY 2002 HHS budget, which calls for $975 million -- a 7% increase -- to boost tobacco prevention, research and education programs. In addition, Thompson maintains that the Bush administration will "work with states to fund innovative programs to keep minors from smoking and to enforce laws that prohibit the sale of tobacco products to children and teenagers." The administration also will take the "extra, vital step" of "making dramatic increases" in tobacco-related research at NIH. Under Bush's budget, the agency would receive $486 million for tobacco programs in 2002, including funds for research on nicotine addiction, the link between tobacco smoke and cancer, smoking prevention strategies and new therapies to help Americans quit smoking, he writes. Thompson also points out that he "underscored our commitment to reducing tobacco use worldwide" at the World Health Assembly in Geneva last month by "making it clear that we wholeheartedly support efforts to craft an international treaty on tobacco control." He concludes, "The world is looking to America on this issue because we are leading the way in tobacco control. And we will continue to be resolute in our efforts to keep children and young adults from smoking" (Thompson, USA Today, 6/1).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.