How to Bridge a Political Divide on Tobacco Policy

Study of the perspectives of U.S. leaders on tobacco policy

From 1998 to 2001, the American Council on Science & Health, New York (the council), conducted a study of the perspectives on tobacco policy of a wide range of U.S. liberal and conservative leaders (which in council terms are those representing the political "left" and the political "right").

For the project, the council (a consortium of more than 350 scientists and physicians dedicated to consumer education on public health issues):

  • Reviewed the literature on tobacco policy of opinion leaders, columnists, publications, and organizations.
  • Analyzed the public statements of liberals and conservatives to identify salient themes and assumptions in order to assess the extent to which political ideology defines the debate about tobacco policy.
  • Prepared a white paper, entitled Bridging the Ideological Divide: An Analysis of Views on Tobacco Policy Across the Political Spectrum.

Key Findings

  • The left and the right disagree on scientific findings about the health effects of smoking, including the number of smoking-related deaths and the effects of environmental tobacco smoke.
  • Both sides generally agree that stronger efforts are needed to prevent children from smoking; they disagree, however, as to the severity of the problem of youth smoking, as well as the nature of the efforts that should be made to restrict industry's attempt to appeal to children.
  • The left places the blame and the responsibility of the consequences of smoking on the tobacco industry; the right points the finger at individual smokers, asserting that smokers know the risks and still choose to smoke.
  • The left argues that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should regulate tobacco products for health and safety; the right tends to oppose such governmental regulation, based on the concern that it will lead to further unnecessary and restrictive regulation of consumer goods.

The report concludes that policymakers across the political spectrum need better education about the health consequences of cigarette smoking, and that such knowledge might help bridge the gap between the two sides and help lay the foundation for a dialogue that is grounded in fact rather than ideology.

Funding

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported the project with a grant of $204,465 between June 1998 and May 2000.

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