Interview with Henry Waxman (D-CA)

The Tobacco Lobby: Money, Grassroots, and Telemarketing

WAXMAN: They're very powerful because they have lots of money. They can hire the best public relations people, the best lawyers, the best lobbyists, and they have been enormously successful in exercising power in Washington and the places where it makes a difference for them. They have a whole apparatus to try to distort what is clear science. They admit nothing and they deny everything. They insist that there's no connection between cigarettes and cancer, heart disease, lung problems; they insist upon it, even though you can have a stack this high of settled science from every reputable medical organization.

HS: Are you suggesting the tobacco industry is using deception?

WAXMAN: I think the tobacco industry is engaged in a deceitful campaign, for decades, of trying to withhold information that they've known about the connection of cigarette smoking and disease, about the connection of nicotine and addiction and their practices to manipulate the nicotine in order to keep people smoking, and their targeting of kids, particularly, to start smoking.

HS: What was your response to the top corporate tobacco executives testimony?

WAXMAN: When the CEOs of the tobacco companies came before our committee and, under oath, said that they didn't think cigarettes caused disease and they didn't think nicotine was addictive, I didn't think they were telling the truth then, and I don't think that they're telling the truth now. So the tobacco industry has to feel comfortable that the Republicans controlling the Congress can give them a sense of ease. They have a vulnerability, however, with the regulations being proposed by the Food and Drug Administration and supported by President Clinton, because with those regulations, the tobacco industry for the first time will be regulated by the FDA as a drug under regulations that would try to stop the marketing of cigarettes to kids and the easy access of cigarettes to kids. I think the tobacco industry wants to stop the regulations that are being proposed by the FDA, relating to children smoking, and they want to make sure that the FDA can never regulate them.

HS: How important is it for the tobacco industry as a whole, that Tom Bliley of Virginia has become chairman of the Commerce Committee?

WAXMAN: When the Republicans took over and Chairman Bliley took his position, all the investigations of the tobacco industry stopped, all the legislation that might have been considered to protect nonsmokers in public places, to try to stop the promotion of cigarettes to kids, to regulate tobacco as a drug in any way shape or form. All of that legislation came to a screeching halt. I don't want to talk about any particular member of Congress, but I think that you'll find a very high correlation between the pro-tobacco votes of members of Congress and the fact that they've got huge campaign contributions from the tobacco industry. I just think you'll see that correlation. The tobacco industry has given a large amount of money to cultural events, to museums, to minority organizations, minority group organizations, and they do this for goodwill, but they also do it to buy silence from groups, and sometimes they do it to call in their chits.
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