For decades, the tobacco industry has hidden documents that revealed information about the health effects of using tobacco products and industry’s marketing strategies to addict new smokers. Now, supporters of the proposed tobacco industry deal say that its disclosure provisions would finally force the industry to “come clean” with the public and policy makers.
In fact, under the industry’s proposal, not a single tobacco industry document would be released until after Congress approved the deal — that is, until it is too late for Congress and the public to understand the true effects of the tobacco deal.
Information disclosure is vital. Only with full disclosure will Congress be in a position to decide how to legislate the best public policy for the future and the fairest compensation for damage done by the tobacco industry in the past. Without full prior disclosure, there is no way for Congress to make informed judgments about any aspect of the complex and lengthy industry deal. For example:
Regulation of Nicotine and Other Tobacco Products. Before legislating limits on the FDA’s ability to regulate tobacco, Congress and the public must know what the industry knows about nicotine and how companies manipulate its level in cigarettes, what chemicals are added to tobacco, and other product health and safety data. Tobacco companies, which have over 30 years of experience in this area, have steadfastly refused to release this important public health information to regulators or the public.
Youth Smoking. Industry information about marketing tobacco to youths is needed before Congress can choose appropriate goals for reducing underage smoking and set penalties for companies’ failure to meet these goals. In addition, youth marketing data is needed so Congress can predict whether money earmarked in the deal to counteract tobacco advertising can be effective in persuading teens to never start using tobacco. Again, the industry has decades of experience determining the best strategies for targeting our nation’s youth, which it must reveal.
Punitive Damages. The industry deal would prohibit courts from awarding punitive damages against tobacco companies to punish them for past conduct. In return, the industry has agreed that $50 billion of the $368 billion deal is their penalty for past misdeeds. Before Congress even considers absolving the industry for its past — including its campaigns to peddle tobacco to children and cover up the harms of second-hand smoke — Congress and the public must know specifically what was done, and by whom.
Congress must fully understand the true magnitude of the tobacco industry’s misconduct before giving serious consideration to any tobacco deal. As stated in a recent letter to President Clinton from Senators Leahy, Lautenberg and eight other Senators, any Congressional action taken before relevant documents are disclosed would be like “a prosecutor agreeing to a plea bargain without knowing the full extent of a criminal’s conduct.”