April 2002

Grant Results

SUMMARY

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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THE PROJECT

ACSH, a consortium of more than 350 scientists and physicians dedicated to consumer education on public health issues, has been committed for more than 20 years to reducing the morbidity and mortality associated with tobacco use.

This grant from RWJF funded the ACSH to conduct a study of the perspectives on tobacco policy of a wide range of US liberal and conservative leaders (which in ACSH terms are those representing the political "left" and the political "right"). The goal of the project was to investigate the beliefs of the leaders from these two groups in order to assess the potential for coalition building that could lead to effective initiatives to reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with tobacco use.

For the project, ACSH:

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

ACSH reviewed and documented 634 citations, gathered from articles, transcripts, and other published information, for this study.

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FINDINGS

The ACSH white paper, Bridging the Ideological Divide, presents evidence that while many of the arguments from both the liberal and the conservative camps are based on valid premises and/or scientific data, others are flawed. In general, the study suggests that it is those on the political left who are concerned with the adverse health effects related to cigarette smoking and who propose strategies for dealing with smoking, while it is those on the political right who are silent on the health issue, fearing that if the government starts to regulate one area, it will eventually expand into other areas, thus threatening individual liberties.

The following are other key findings from Bridging the Ideological Divide:

  • 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. While the left generally accepts and often cites the data concerning smoking-related health statistics, the right tends to be suspicious of these numbers, pointing to biases or to imprecise data analysis. The left tends to view nicotine as an addictive drug, while the right more often challenges the notion that smoking is addictive, stressing that the term "addictive" implies a physical dependence and a mental impairment associated with the use of illicit drugs but which is absent in tobacco products.
  • There is agreement between the two sides that there should be stronger efforts to prevent children from smoking; however, the left and the right generally disagree about the severity of the problem of youth smoking and the nature of the efforts that should be made to restrict industry attempts to appeal to children. The left wants to ban or restrict advertising to children, blaming the tobacco industry for targeting and manipulating children through advertising. The right often sees such banning or restrictions as unnecessary, based on its general belief that advertising does not entice youth to smoke; some on the right also argue that such bans would violate free speech protections of the First Amendment.
  • The left, which believes that the tobacco industry knew of the health effects and addictive properties of tobacco and kept this information from the public, places blame and responsibility for the consequences of smoking on the tobacco industry; the right tends to point to the individual smoker as the responsible party, asserting that smokers know the risks of smoking and still choose to smoke. The left justifies legal action against the industry, based on the belief that the tobacco industry is largely to blame for tobacco-related illnesses. The right does not support litigation, because it contends that the public was well informed of the dangers of smoking.
  • The left argues that the FDA should regulate tobacco products for health and safety (e.g., restricting tobacco advertising and product labeling, disclosing and controlling product ingredients, and restricting sales and distribution); the right tends to oppose such governmental regulation, based on a concern that it will lead to further unnecessary and restrictive regulation of other consumer products.

Communications

ACSH disseminated Bridging the Ideological Divide through e-mail sent to 100 journalists and opinion leaders in the national media, including those at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The American Spectator and to organizations such as the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute. The grantee organization also e-mailed a press release on the report to an additional 400 reporters and posted the report on its Web site, along with the press release.

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CONCLUSIONS

Bridging the Ideological Divide concludes that the left and the right generally agree on the necessity of and support for more education concerning the adverse health effects of using tobacco, but that each side tends to believe that the other has underlying agendas, motives, and goals. The left generally accuses some on the right of being influenced by tobacco financial contributions, while some on the right question if left-oriented tobacco policy is motivated more by a general contempt for corporate profits than by a desire to promote public health.

The ACSH report notes that the resulting wariness of each other's programs renders all but impossible any viable, productive dialogue leading to significant public health improvement. However, the report notes that there are some leaders who dissent from their political affiliations on tobacco-related issues, and that these individuals could be critical in facilitating collaboration, and demonstrating that agreement on effective tobacco policy could be a shared goal.

The ACSH report concludes that education about the health consequences of cigarette smoking is essential for policymakers across the political spectrum. This knowledge might help bridge the gap between the left and the right and help lay the foundation for a dialogue that is grounded in fact rather than ideology.

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AFTER THE GRANT

ACSH is continuing its efforts to disseminate the report and is seeking funds to hold a series of seminars in Washington, D.C., in order to bring together liberal and conservative leaders to discuss tobacco policy.

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GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION

Project

Study of the Perspectives of US Leaders on Tobacco Policy

Grantee

American Council on Science & Health (New York,  NY)

  • Amount: $ 204,465
    Dates: June 1998 to May 2000
    ID#:  031830

Contact

Elizabeth M. Whelan, Sc.D., M.P.H.
(212) 362-7044
whelan@acsh.org

Web Site

http://www.acsh.org

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Books and Reports

Douglas DE, Whelan EM, Lukachko AM, and Ross GL. Bridging the Ideological Divide: An Analysis of Views on Tobacco Policy Across the Political Spectrum. New York, N.Y.: American Council on Science & Health, 2000. 100 copies were distributed. The report also appears online.

Press Kits and News Releases

A news release on the report Bridging the Ideological Divide: An Analysis of Views on Tobacco Policy Across the Political Spectrum was e-mailed to 400 journalists.

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Report prepared by: David Kales
Reviewed by: Janet Spencer King
Reviewed by: Karyn Feiden
Program Officer: Karen K. Gerlach

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