"THE HEART OF THE MATTER"
a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA)

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Transcripts: 517-1 to 517-3

Week: 517.1 Guest: Eric Solberg Topic: Tobacco Lawsuits - Part One Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: This is a three part series on the future of tobacco in the United States. My guest is Eric Solberg from DOC or Doctors Ought To Care.

NEMA: Mr. Solberg, the tobacco industry is under unprecedented attack by everyone from state governments to organizations such as DOC. Are we finally seeing a crack in their armor?

SOLBERG: Well, the media would have you believe that, at least the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and the front page headlines they've had over the last couple of months. Unfortunately I don't think that what we've really seen is something that's really going to put these people out of business as the public is lead to believe and the reason for that - if you'd take a look just at the one settlement between this large class action group of attorneys who filed suit and the settlement that Liggett Tobacco Company has agreed to - the amount that they're going to be paying represents only about 15% to 20% of their advertising budget which really isn't going to hurt them in the long run. It's simply going to mean that they will be moving and shifting some money around in order to keep their marketing and promotion up to the level they need.

NEMA: Isn't however the significance of that settlement more about the symbolic change from the entire history of the tobacco industry in which there never was a single dollar paid in settlement versus at least now there's been some sort of a settlement? Don't you believe that that could start some sort of a snowball rolling?

SOLBERG: What you have to do is you have to look at the motivation for Bennett Lebow who heads up the Liggett process over there in the company and you have to look at his motivation for having done this. His motivation for settling this came out of his efforts to try to take over R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. What he's trying to do is through the shareholders resolution and proxy process he's trying to get R.J. Reynolds to split off its tobacco division from its food division which is Nabisco and the reason he's trying to do that is he already owns a significant portion of shares in the tobacco company over there at R.J. Reynolds and so what he's trying to do is get them to split this off so that he can have more control over the R.J. Reynolds Company so he's really looking at the amount of money that he can make and he's looking at his own self interest in doing this and so I don't really see any kind of snowball effect happening at this point. As you've seen in the news media and been reported, R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris and the rest of the tobacco companies - Brown & Williamson - they are not going to going to settle. All of these will be going to court and if you saw any of the recent news on the judges that have now been selected in the fifth circuit in New Orleans, the panel of judges actually is leaning in favor of the tobacco industry so it's really hard to say where these lawsuits are going to end up and if they will even maintain a class action status after these three judges who are on the panel review the case.

NEMA: Join me for part two on tobacco lawsuits with Eric Solberg.

Transcripts:

Week: 517.2 Guest: Eric Solberg Topic: Tobacco Lawsuits - Part Two Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: This is part two in a three part series on the future of tobacco in the United States. My guest is Eric Solberg from DOC or Doctors Ought To Care.

NEMA: One of the strongest if not the strongest motivation behind your organization DOC is to dissuade young people from taking up smoking and one of the ways you believe in doing that rather than trying to make it illegal is more make it distasteful to children, make it distasteful to young people, make it look foolish and stupid rather than make it look hip and desirable. The tobacco companies are claiming that they are making some sort of an effort now to dissuade young people from smoking. How much do you swallow their argument or is that just a smoke and mirrors?

SOLBERG: You've brought up a couple of good points there. The first point is a lot of the efforts right now that are being focused on youth smoking boils down to trying to pass legislation to so-called restrict the access of minors to tobacco is what these laws are really all about and I think if you look at the parallel to the alcohol use problem among teenagers, you've seen that those legislative efforts have not worked very well either and even raising the drinking age to the age of 21 hasn't really deterred the use of alcohol by teenagers so I think that there has to be a rethinking in this whole process rather than advocating for more laws and more legislation that really is not being very effective. One of the things that our group DOC tries to do is to sort of immunize children against the advertising and the promotion that's out there and really getting young people to laugh at and ridicule this product. We focus primarily on Marlboro because 67% of the kids who smoke are buying Marlboro and so that's really become our focus and our target.

NEMA: One of the arguments by the tobacco industry and by many politicians that defend the right of tobacco companies to produce cigarettes and sell them in this country is that it's a parents job, not the job of the government or private industry, to regulate the behavior of children. How realistic is it for parents to regulate the behavior of their children when they're out of their sight?

SOLBERG: Well certainly parents have some responsibility in raising their children in order to try to provide them with information. I think that what the industry likes to do though is they put the entire burden onto the parents so meanwhile they're spending $6.5 billion a year on advertising and marketing and promotions that quite frankly are geared to appeal to children so on the one hand they're appealing to kid's senses of exploration and you know, testing out new things in life with advertising campaigns that do appeal to them. On the other hand they're saying "We don't think young people should smoke. It's against the law..." and so on and so forth. But again they're not saying that through a $6.5 billion advertising campaign. They're just simple making that statement. The reason they're making that statement is that they're very worried right now that the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, is going to actually come down hard on them and regulate some of their advertising that is aimed at young people.

NEMA: Join me for part three on tobacco lawsuits with Eric Solberg.

Transcripts:

Week: 517.3 Guest: Eric Solberg Topic: Tobacco Lawsuits - Part Three Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: This is part three in a three part series on the future of tobacco in the United States. My guest is Eric Solberg from DOC or Doctors Ought To Care.

NEMA: Does the United States government still subsidize the tobacco industry on any side whether it has to do with marketing or the agricultural end of it?

SOLBERG: That's a good question because a lot of people have heard about the subsidies that go to the farmers which quite frankly isn't as much as it used to be and that amount has dwindled to about I think $50 million or $60 million a year which is still a good chunk but more importantly, their marketing and advertising is somewhat subsidized in that they can deduct that as a business expense and so that is deducted from the taxes that they end up paying into the Internal Revenue Service and so when you're looking at $6.5 billion a year of marketing and promotion by this industry, that's quite a huge deduction for them and so they have felt that by pouring more money into advertising and promotion, they are thus able to deduct that as a business expense. That means the taxpayer comes up with the money that would normally have been paid in by the industry.

NEMA: How does an industry that produces a product that unambiguously contributes to some of the most major and mortal diseases that are suffered by humans legally continue to market a product like cigarettes?

SOLBERG: You have to take a look at the history involved in a lot of this and especially the political history. The tobacco industry, their product primarily cigarettes but also spitting tobacco, has been virtually exempt from any kind of regulation by the federal government and that includes exemption from the Food and Drug Administration and so on and so forth - obviously if they were regulated by the Food and Drug Administration the product wouldn't exist because it wouldn't be approved - but that comes from their political clout. You're looking at an industry that is the primary giver of money to the Republican Party and one of the major contributors to the Democratic Party so you're talking about an industry that gives out so much money to both sides of this in the political process that they have been exempt from just about any scrutiny by Congress.

NEMA: How can a parent in your opinion communicate to a child the importance of not smoking?

SOLBERG: The analogy that I try to make is that kids do not want to go to school wearing plain pocket jeans from J.C. Penney or track shoes from K-Mart. They want brand names. They want Nike and they want Guess jeans and so on and so forth. There is no difference when it comes to cigarettes. They want brand names and Marlboro is the number one brand. All you have to do as a parent is get your child to really laugh at Marlboro, talk about Marlboro and then the cowboy throwing up into his cowboy hat, getting them to laugh about this a little bit more rather than wagging your finger and warning about the dangers of smoking, you know, really injecting a sense of humor into this where the young person ends up really ridiculing this product and really thinking that this is a waste of money, basically not to buy this product and it becomes a consumer approach as well because it is a buying behavior as much as it is a health behavior.

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Last modified: November 04, 2021