How Close Are the Bush Administration’s Tobacco Ties?
At least five members of the Bush administration have ties to the tobacco industry, which critics "contend" could "sway the outcome" of a "multi-billion dollar" lawsuit and "stifle a push" for FDA "regulatory power" over cigarettes, Media General News Service/Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. In addition, President Bush has tapped Harvard University researcher John Graham to head the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, an appointment that, pending Senate approval, would represent the sixth administration member with "financial or other ties" to the tobacco industry. Graham, who directs the Center for Risk Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health, would join Attorney General John Ashcroft, Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, senior White House adviser Karl Rove and White House business liaison Kirk Blalock -- "all of whom worked for or have other links" to the industry. "Clearly, George W. Bush has closely aligned himself with the tobacco industry and has made quite clear that he's not going to go after Big Tobacco in a way that resembles the Clinton administration's assertive efforts," Clifford Douglas of the University of Michigan's Tobacco Research Network said. However, Media General/Times-Dispatch reports that it is "unclear" if the Bush administration will pursue a lawsuit initiated by the Clinton administration accusing cigarette makers of "lying for decades" about the health effects of smoking.
The Bush administration may terminate efforts to allow the FDA to regulate tobacco products. While Thompson said last week that he "personally favors" FDA regulation, Bush has not commented. Antismoking advocates also have criticized Thompson -- who held $15,000 to $50,000 in Philip Morris Cos. stock, which he later sold -- for his ties to the "tobacco giant." Still, Richard Daynard of the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University called Thompson's "personal endorsement" of FDA regulation "encouraging." He said, "It bodes well that there is somebody in this crucial position in the administration who is taking a strong public health position," adding, "He may not prevail in the end. I think the caveat certainly shows that the tobacco industry is well represented in the administration." Meanwhile, while Ashcroft, who oversees the government's federal suit, has called cigarette makers "the merchants of death," he "took the lead in killing" a tobacco reform bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) three years ago that would have allowed the FDA to regulate tobacco. However, during his confirmation hearing, Ashcroft testified "it was not a given" that, if confirmed, he would drop the lawsuit.
Among other members of the Bush administration with ties to Big Tobacco, Boyd has advised the industry, and Blalock has served as a spokesperson for Philip Morris. In addition, Rove served as a political consultant to Philip Morris from 1991 to 1996, a tie that Daynard called "troubling." He said, "There he is, the first person the president hears from in the morning and the last person he hears from when he leaves at night." Daynard added, "Having said that, I think his first loyalty is to Bush. It's not to his former employer." Public Citizen recently issued a "blistering" report accusing Graham of soliciting more than $25,000 from Philip Morris while criticizing an early 1990s government study that found that second-hand tobacco smoke causes lung cancer. However, despite the administration's ties to tobacco companies, Daynard warned that "it is still too early" to predict the effect that Graham, Ashcroft, Thompson and others will have on tobacco policy. "The burden is on the Bush administration to demonstrate that these strong prior ties are not going to influence their policy," he said, adding, "If they fail to meet this burden, it will be fair game in upcoming elections" (Mitchell, Media General News Service/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 4/1).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.