Lead U.S. Delegate to WHO Tobacco Negotiations ‘Retires’
Thomas Novotny, the head of the U.S. delegation to the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, has "stepped down" and will retire for "personal reasons," the Washington Post reports. However, Novotny, a deputy assistant secretary at HHS, has reportedly "privately expressed frustration" over the Bush administration's "soften[ing]" on "key issues," including cigarette advertising and marketing and restrictions on second-hand smoke. As head of the delegation, Novotny represented the Bush administration at the talks aimed to develop international guidelines to "significant[ly] reduc[e]" tobacco use by 2003. HHS spokesperson William Hall said that Novotny's retirement "had nothing to do with the international tobacco treaty negotiations" and that "he simply decided he wanted to retire" (Kaufman, Washington Post, 8/2). However, in a "brief statement" to the Associated Press Wednesday night, Novotny said, "It's not the same job I took two years ago. There is a new administration. My position is different now" (Adams, Wall Street Journal, 8/3). The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids' Judith Wilkenfield, who has known Novotny for 10 years, said, "[Novotny] was very uncomfortable with the positions he was required to take." She added, "[I]t comes as no surprise to me that he would retire rather than to argue the case of the new administration on tobacco issues." According to three people active in the global conference, Novotny "felt uncomfortable, and sometimes distressed, by the positions he had to defend," the Post reports. Novotny's decision comes as the Bush administration is "under attack" from anti-smoking activists, who have "criticized" what they say is a "significant retrea[t]" from American positions during negotiations over international tobacco regulation. According to the Post, WHO officials have said that the United States has taken positions "opposed by many, and sometimes most, other nations."
Meanwhile, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), after his staff analyzed HHS and WHO documents outlining the U.S. stance at the international conference, wrote a letter to Bush "criticizing" the administration's tobacco policies. Waxman "accused" the White House of orchestrating "a breath-taking reversal in U.S. policy -- going from global leader on tobacco control to pulling back and advocating the tobacco industry's positions." Such changes included U.S. opposition to a proposal requiring health warnings to be in the language of the country where the tobacco products are sold and to "make voluntary" tobacco control measures that were "previously accepted as mandatory." Waxman wrote, "I have received evidence that the United States is seeking to undermine world efforts to negotiate an international agreement to reduce tobacco use." Also, as ranking member of the House Committee on Government Reform, Waxman has written various department heads requesting information about any meetings that occurred between federal officials and the tobacco industry while the U.S. positions were being drafted (Washington Post, 8/2).
While the tobacco industry was "on the ropes politically and legally" two years ago, it now faces an "acquiescent administration" and a Congress "intent on honoring the investment tobacco made in them," Albert Hunt writes a Wall Street Journal op-ed. With the domestic "crackdowns" on tobacco "subsid[ing]," Hunt says that the Bush administration is "determined to help American tobacco spread its virulence around the world." Citing the trade positions the U.S. delegation to the WHO has taken and Waxman's letter to Bush, Hunt says that the United States has "gone from a leader in a global fight against tobacco to an industry toady." As examples, Hunt describes the budget reductions in the Justice Department's lawsuit against Big Tobacco and the "leaks" made by the agency about "what a weak case it is." Hunt speculates that the agency is seeking a "sweetheart arrangement" with the industry to end the lawsuit "if they can just figure out how to camouflage it." Hunt writes that these policies "would be comical if it weren't so depressing" (Hunt, Wall Street Journal, 8/2).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.