"The Heart of the Matter"

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Transcripts: 538-3 and 538-4

Week: 538.3 Guest: Dr. William Novelli, Pres. National Tobacco Center for Tobacco-Free Kids Topic: National Tobacco Free Kids- An overview & Purpose of the organization - Part One of Two Producer/Host: Steve Girard

NEMA: Does it seem to you that while more peers and friends have quit smoking, more and more kids have taken up the tobacco habit? And I don't mean just teenagers....but kids! Today, we're talking with William Novelli, president of the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids. Is that the situation, Mr. Novelli?...that more kids are smoking?

NOVELLI: Yes, you're right about that. Right now, the latest government data show about 35% of all teens in our country are smoking. It's even higher...it's 40% among teen females, and as you say, kids...pre-teens, are taking up the habit. And kids are smoking at a younger and younger age.

NEMA: Tell us how your newly formed organization came together...

NOVELLI: A number of the organizations that have been working in this area, such as the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Medical Association, several foundations, including Robert Wood Johnson, all decided that they really needed to pool their resources, and have an organization that could focus directly on children and smoking. And so, that's the origin of our program.

NEMA: The tobacco companies have huge marketing coffers...and that has to be daunting....

NOVELLI: You're absolutely right...there's probably no greater opponent than the tobacco industry. They've got more money than anyone can imagine...to give you a perfect example: they spend over 6 billion dollars a year in the United States on marketing...and that's sort of the marketing equivalent of saturation bombing. The one thing we have on our side, though, is public opinion. Right now, we just did a poll in fact, Steve, a few weeks ago, showing that over 80% of the American public want more and stricter government regulation regarding children and tobacco. And over two thirds of the American public believe that the tobacco companies are targeting kids.

NEMA: What's the plan...how will your Center help stop kids from using tobacco?

NOVELLI: We're lobbying aggressively at the federal level and at the state level. And lobbying is a tough chore here, because the tobacco industry is such a major contributor to the political parties and to the members of Congress, and even state legislators. We're working through the media, we're using advertising, we're taking our case to the people. And also, Steve, we're working through organizations...we have over a hundred members now, and they are getting the word out through their members, to their constituents.

NEMA: And if individuals want to join in the effort?

NOVELLI: They can do one of several things, They can call our 800 number, 800-284-KIDS. That's one important thing they can do to become involved and to see how they can contact their legislators and so forth. The other thing they can do though, short of that, is really to stand up and be counted. The most powerful force that we have opposing special interests in this country, of course, are our citizenry...people who are voters and who are unhappy. And I think that this is going to be the force that really changes this situation. People don't want the tobacco industry to get its hands on our children. And so, getting involved at the community level...at a PTA meeting, talking to a state legislator, those kinds of things are going to be important ways for people to get involved.

NEMA: Let me throw out some stark numbers...three thousand children and teenagers start a smoking habit each day...that's something William Novelli calls a pediatric epidemic...with a third of these kids armed for premature death. Most of them are girls. Again, the number for the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids is 800-284-KIDS. We'll talk in our next program on new FDA rules on tobacco and kids. I'm Steve Girard.


Week: 538.4 Guest: Dr. William Novelli, Pres. National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids Topic: Recent FDA Guidelines about Tobacco and Kids, Part Two of Two Producer/Host: Steve Girard

NEMA: They have massive amounts of power through money and influence, but the nation's tobacco companies are under attack. States have filed lawsuits to get back health assistance money they've used to treat people with lung disease and cancer...and now, the Food and Drug Administration has come out with new guidelines aimed at limiting the damage and influence cigarettes and their advertising have on young people...our kids. William Novelli, President of the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids, is with us today...Give us an outline of the newly announced FDA rules on tobacco and kids.....

NOVELLI: Number one...as it classifies nicotine as a drug, this is going to recast the whole debate. I mean, the American public is going to get used to the idea that nicotine is a drug, cigarettes are drug delivery devices...psychologically powerful stuff. Thing number two is, it's going to restrict the ability of the tobacco industry to market to children, and that has to do with the advertising, but also the giveaway products like caps and gym bags and CD's and camping equipment and all that business. And also, it's going to restrict the ability of kids to buy tobacco.

NEMA: Can you give us a primer on the access rules on tobacco for kids?

NOVELLI: Well, all fifty states have laws that say that kids can't buy tobacco...but unfortunately, those laws are largely ignored. CDC did a study showing that 75% of the time, kids who want to buy tobacco can buy it. And so, what this new law does is it requires age verification, and face to face sale, it's going to eliminate free samples, also vending machines are going to be out....except only where adults can go, and kids cannot go. And it's going to do other things, such as require that cigarettes be behind the counter, so no more cigarette displays right next to the candy counter, that kind of thing.

NEMA: Do you feel that the tide is turning against the power of the tobacco companies?

NOVELLI: It's really hard to say, truthfully, if the tide is turning. there's a lot of momentum against the tobacco industry and against tobacco and kids, but they are very powerful. And they can drag this thing out for decades, and of course, that's their strategy. In the courts, in the Congress, they obfuscate the issue, they say things like "we don't want kids to smoke" and so forth.

NEMA: Your organization has about 6 million dollars to battle the billions the tobacco companies pump out every year, just what are you going to do?

NOVELLI: We're very aggressively fund raising right now, and it's not impossible that with public opinion on our side, we can make this thing work. One of our strategies is to make the tobacco industry fight a thousand battles, instead of just a few big battles...so we're going to support all the states where there are state activities going on, such as increased excise taxes, overturning these preemption rules that the tobacco industry has rammed through at the state level, clean air acts at the municipal level. We're going to have state advertising right now, naming names of United States senators and congresspersons, and saying, " Senator so and so, do you support the FDA rule...because this is tobacco versus kids"? And so, we think we have plenty of weapons at our disposal, of course if we had twenty million dollars a year, we'd do better.

NEMA: How about a parting thought?....

NOVELLI: It may be that the statistics have gotten boring to people, but the truth is we have a pediatric epidemic on our hands. 35% of the kids are smoking, three thousand kids start every day, and a third of all these kids are going to die a premature death. That's the bottom line of this thing.

NEMA: Let me give you the number for the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids...800-284-KIDS. I'm Steve Girard.

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