Long Live The Merchants Of Death

Originally published at IntellectualCapital.com
By K. Daniel Glover

If you believe the headlines out of a Miami courtroom April 7, the once seemingly invincible tobacco industry is doomed. Conventional wisdom now says that the $12.7-million penalty a Florida jury voted to impose on cigarette makers, along with the promise of more compensatory damages in the class-action suit and punitive damages that may top $100 billion, will prove to be the straw that broke Joe Camel’s back.

That wisdom seems sound when you consider the string of bad news for tobacco tycoons over the past few years — a multibillion-dollar legal settlement in 1998, a string of anti-tobacco verdicts since then and the declining value of tobacco stocks, to name a few. Even Dan Webb, the lead tobacco attorney in the Florida case, warned in court April 10 of the “enormous risk that an industry is going to be destroyed.”

But like the long-ago pronouncements of Mark Twain’s death, the reports of Big Tobacco’s unavoidable collapse have been greatly exaggerated. Assuming they do not smoke the cancer sticks they create, officials at Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, et al, can breathe easily because tobacco, as they surely know, will be a viable industry for a long time to come.

A record of success
Journalists who know little or nothing of tobacco’s record in the annals of American policy are naïve to seize on developments like those in Florida to forecast the industry’s death. “I think far too many people wring their hands about the imminent demise of the tobacco industry than the evidence really supports,” David Logan, a law professor at Wake Forest University in the heart of tobacco country, told the Winston-Salem Journal after news of the Florida case broke.

Even a cursory glance at the past would convince the most trusting of scribes to filter the hype from both pro- and anti-tobacco forces, who have strategic reasons to predict that the end is near. History unquestionably is on tobacco’s side.

The noxious weed has endured countless attacks since colonial days — England’s James I condemned smoking as “a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain [and] dangerous to the lungs” as early as 1604 — but it always seems to find a market. And its defenders always seem to find a way to win, or at least to achieve a favorable compromise.

Science And Food: A Volatile Mix

Originally published at IntellectualCapital.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Ask Ronnie Cummins whether science and technology have been a blessing or a curse to America’s food supply, and he does not hesitate in answering. “So far,” says Cummins, the director of the Campaign for Food Safety, “it has been a curse.” He acknowledges that the United States has the most productive agricultural system in the world, in part thanks to the technology’s ability to combat pests, drought and other farming woes. “But,” he quickly adds, “we also have the most contaminated.”

Ask the same question about agricultural science and technology to Ralph Hardy, president of the National Agricultural Biotechnology Council, and he is just as adamant in defense of his profession. He can think of no examples of where agricultural biotechnology has been a curse and points to one phenomenal blessing: “We wouldn’t be anywhere near having enough food for the six billion people on this earth” without it.

The backdrop to that question is the raging debate about genetically engineered crops — corn, soybeans, cotton and potatoes among them. And the competing responses represent the two extremes of national thinking on that hot-button issue. Caught in a food fight about the merits of downing genetically modified meals, Americans must consider just how much mixing of food and science they are willing to tolerate.

The world of high-tech agriculture
The nation has faced that dilemma before, as a 1997-98 report from the American Council on Science and Health confirms. “Facts Versus Fears: A Review of the Greatest Unfounded Health Scares of Recent Times” summarizes, with a blatant pro-science slant, the most noteworthy food-safety debates of the past half-decade — a pre-Thanksgiving panic over potentially tainted cranberries in 1959 and the banning of Alar on apples in 1989 among them.

Only with the advent of plant genomics research a decade ago, however, did the implications of high-tech agriculture become a staple of policy debate. And only in the past few years, with the harvesting of the first genetically altered crops, has the debate reached the level of full-blown controversy.

Talk of genetically modified organisms once was the domain of bioengineers and the corporate agricultural entities like Monsanto Inc., DuPont Co. and Novartis AG who hired them to create and patent super crops. Today, GMOs are the stuff of international trade disputes, crop sabotage and media sensationalism about “Frankenfoods” and “terminator” seed technology.

The Ethics Of Baby-making

Originally published at IntellectualCapital.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Flash back to the summer of 1978. On July 25 of that year in an English hospital, John and Lesley Brown rejoiced at the birth of their daughter, Louise. The rest of the world, meanwhile, continued the passionate debate it had begun months earlier at the news of Louise’s conception — in a petri dish.

The media heralded the first successful use of in vitro fertilization as an extraordinary development, but religious leaders condemned it as evidence of scientists “playing God.” Some scientists were wary of the ramifications of the world’s first “test-tube baby;” others defended the technique perfected by Robert Edwards as a noble remedy for the childless and hopeless.

Now flash forward to the present. Louise Brown, nearing her 21st birthday, is virtually forgotten by the masses, and IVF has become commonplace. Hundreds of clinics in America alone perform the procedure, resulting in the births of some 60,000 American children between 1981 and 1996. Would-be parents pay tens of thousands of dollars — all or most of it out of pocket because many insurance companies do not cover infertility treatments — to conceive.

Few of the births merit a mention in the press. Yet behind the scenes, the debate about assisted reproductive technology rages as strongly today as it did two decades ago. The reason: Louise Brown’s birth opened the floodgates to a range of technological advances (egg and sperm donation and freezing, gene selection) that, in turn, have raised even more ethical and legal questions (lesbian and postmenopausal pregnancies, selective abortion, sperm-bank franchises) than Brown’s birth ever did.

Law professor Lori B. Andrews explains today’s reality in her new book “The Clone Age: Adventures in the New World of Reproductive Technology” when she says this: “I feel as if the world is locked into a battle over who can push the boundaries the farthest.”

‘The Wild West of medicine’
That controversy would surround an act as intimate as procreation should not be surprising. But likewise, that so many of the estimated 6.1 million infertile women and their partners would use controversial technologies like IVF to conceive should be equally understandable because of the innate human urge to bear and rear children.

The Language Of Disability Rights

Originally published at IntellectualCapital.com
By K. Daniel Glover

“Powerful in its simplicity.” President George Bush used those words to describe the Americans with Disabilities Act when he signed the law in 1990. This year, the federal government’s National Council on Disability reiterated Bush’s message about the ADA Feb. 19 in the introduction to its “progress report” on implementation of the law.

But if today’s ADA-related legal wrangling is indicative of disability law in 1999, the landmark civil-rights statute that prohibits discrimination against the disabled in the workplace, public services and public accommodations is anything but simple. The Supreme Court issued its first disabilities ruling last year, and the justices are expected to rule on five cases soon before adjourning this year.

And that is just the tip of the disability-law iceberg, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which began enforcing the law in 1992. EEOC statistics show that disabilities-related complaints have averaged more than 20 percent of all job-discrimination complaints since 1994, with a total of nearly 18,000 filed in 1998 alone.

Many of those complaints go nowhere, of course. Of the 108,939 cases filed between July 1992 and September 1998, according to the EEOC, half have been dismissed as having “no reasonable cause,” and businesses have paid only $211 million as a result.

Yet the sheer size of the caseload has kept the disabilities debate alive and strong in the years since the ADA’s enactment. To disability-rights advocates, the existence of thousands of complaints is evidence that disability-related discrimination remains a problem; to business groups, the complaints reinforce their pre-ADA belief that the law is “a good idea gone bad.”

Interpreting congressional intent
The NCD’s annual report indicates that the concerns of the disabled touch virtually every sector of the domestic agenda — employment discrimination, health care, welfare, immigration, transportation and housing, to name a few — and sometimes the international agenda. The report notes that the ADA serves “as a model of civil rights legislation for countries throughout the world.”

The Comeback Cure?

Originally published at IntellectualCapital.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Drive just north of Washington, to the federal government’s health-care complex in Bethesda, Md., and you will see it. There amidst the agencies known collectively as the National Institutes of Health sits the headquarters of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Formerly known as the Office of Alternative Medicine, its purpose is to support research and training in alternative medicine, and to disseminate information on that field. The agency, created by legislative mandate in 1992, maintains a clearinghouse of information on everything from yoga, biofeedback and psychotherapy to naturopathy, homeopathy and acupuncture.

NCCAM’s mere existence is a testament to the growing American acceptance of the plethora of therapies included under the “alternative” umbrella. And Congress’ 1998 decision to elevate it from the status of “office” to “national center,” and to more than double its annual budget (from $20 million in fiscal 1998 to $50 million in fiscal 1999), demonstrates just how conventional alternative medicine has become.

A grassroots health movement
With last November’s publication of a special issue on the subject in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the premier magazine of the medical research industry, complementary and alternative medicine hit the mainstream full bore. The natural cures yesteryear are in vogue once again.

The cornerstone study of the JAMA issue, based on a telephone survey by researchers at Harvard University, concluded that Americans visited alternative doctors 629 million times in 1997 but primary physicians only 386 million times. It also estimated out-of-pocket expenses for alternative medicine at $27 billion, nearly on par with the $29 billion of non-insured expenses for traditional care.

The package on alternative medicine triggered cover stories in Time magazine and USA Today, and front-page coverage in The Washington Post, among other publications. But the JAMA study and the ensuing media coverage merely confirmed what the millions of converts already knew: Alternative treatments no longer are just an alternative; they are standard weapons in the never-ending war against poor health.

‘Universal Coverage’ To ‘Incremental Reform’

Originally published at IntellectualCapital.com
By K. Daniel Glover

In September 1993, President Clinton outlined to a joint session of Congress what remains the largest and boldest social-policy initiative of his presidency. His plan to overhaul the nation’s health-care system called for a mandate of insurance and a package of standard benefits for every American and a limit on the annual increase in insurance premiums. Had the proposal become law, today’s businesses would have been paying at least 80 percent of their employees’ health insurance premiums since Jan. 1.

Neither Clinton’s plan nor any like it survived the legislative grind, though, and Republicans ultimately regained control of Congress for the first time in four decades in part thanks to the electorate’s rejection of a sweeping health-care overhaul. But in the nearly five years since Clinton’s biggest domestic failure, the system has transformed rapidly. More Americans are uninsured, and far more of them receive their care through health maintenance organizations.

That change has alleviated some problems, chief among them the increase in health-care spending, which the Department of Health and Human Services said hit a 37-year low in 1996. But it also has triggered new problems and failed to solve some substantial old ones. An estimated 41 million Americans still have no health insurance, and HMOs have gained a reputation for being uncaring bureaucracies that restrict patients’ access to specialists and deny care for the most serious illnesses.

The weaknesses in the system once again have thrust health care to the forefront of national debate, and Congress, faced with an abbreviated legislative schedule and election-year pressures, now must decide how, or whether, to act. The one constant in the debate, the key question lawmakers must answer, seems to be this: How broad should federal control of health care be?

Transition to the ‘incremental approach’
The answer varies with the audience. HMOs, insurance executives, health-plan administrators and businessmen for the most part oppose government involvement. If given the chance, they say, the market will solve any shortcomings as the health system continues to change. Don White, a spokesman for the American Association of Health Plans, says more people have enrolled in HMOs because those groups have responded to public concerns. “We’re getting better at what we do,” he says.

But consumer groups and organizations like Families USA believe new government rules are necessary to curtail the number of “horror stories” of people who have been denied coverage when they need it most. Edward F. Howard, the executive vice president of the Alliance for Health Reform, recalls the criticisms of Clinton’s 1993 plan as he thinks about the current debate.

Dear Dad: Let Me Walk For You

Originally published in the Prince William Journal, April 8, 1998
By K. Daniel Glover

The year is 1958, and Jack is in a strange place, far from the tiny West Virginia community he has called home for the first 20 years of his life. Everybody knew him there. Here, in Great Lakes, Ill., he is just another sailor wannabe lost in a boys club called the U.S. Navy.

Jack knew when he enlisted that life in the Navy would be difficult, but week five, what they call “service week,” truly has tested his mettle. Mornings in the chow hall start at 4 a.m. and last until after the evening meal for his company of about 60 men.

A high fever early in the week has sapped Jack of his energy. He doesn’t know what is wrong; he only knows he feels awful — like someone gave him a shot of morphine that has left him dazed. He is exhausted, but the fatigue is mysterious.

He is sure the weariness is unrelated to the rigors of basic training because he experienced it before, in high school. He didn’t understand it then, either. But there are no excuses in boot camp. Jack visits the sick bay and a military doctor immediately sends him back to the chow line.

Somehow he survives the week and joins his Navy buddies for a weekend trip to Milwaukee, the nearest major city.

Jack is my father, and he shared that story with me a few days ago when I quizzed him, 40 years after his boot-camp ordeals, about the inexplicable sensation that plagues him to this day. Thanks to an episode of double vision in one eye about 15 years ago, Dad now knows the cause of that fatigue is a nasty disease called multiple sclerosis.

Knowledge, however, has provided little comfort — either physical or emotional — to my father or the hundreds of thousands like him because modern medicine offers little relief from a neuromuscular disease that slowly ravages the body. There is no cure, and only a few drugs have proved effective in treating the symptoms.

The prognosis of MS patients has improved in recent years with the help of researchers worldwide. And in 10 days my wife and I will join dozens of other area residents in the annual MS Walk sponsored by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to raise money for more research and aid to local MS patients.

My interest in this cause obviously is personal, and I will be the first to admit that multiple sclerosis doesn’t touch as many lives as cancer or some other terrible afflictions. But I hope after hearing my father’s story that you will appreciate the impact of a disease unfamiliar to too many people.

The Tobacco Road Less Traveled

Originally published at IntellectualCapital.com
By K. Daniel Glover

You know all is not right in tobacco country when a self-proclaimed “proud North Carolinian” like White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles takes to the podium, as he did at a luncheon this week, to condemn as a purveyor of “deadly products” an industry that is central to his home-state economy. Or when a long-time tobacco ally like Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R-VA) exerts his congressional authority, as he did last December, to secure evidence of alleged deception by the tobacco industry and post it on the Internet for mass public consumption.

But these days, the unimaginable has become the commonplace in the tobacco wars. Tobacco companies and the health groups who once condemned them as “merchants of death” now walk hand in hand to Capitol Hill to appeal for a nearly $400 billion tobacco settlement. Tobacco-state lawmakers like Sens. Ernest F. Hollings (D-SC) and Lauch Faircloth, (R-NC) who in times past would have worked to kill such a deal, now only seek protection for tobacco farmers and caps on attorneys’ fees.

And tobacco executives who in 1994 denied under oath the addictive nature of nicotine and dodged questions about the health risks of smoking now openly, albeit carefully, acknowledge the dangers inherent in the use of their products.

On the surface, the 100-year war to regulate one of America’s most profitable crops appears to be nearing its completion. Just beneath the surface, though, the animosity between smokers and nonsmokers that has festered for decades continues to boil, raising one nagging question: Will this war ever truly end?

A see-saw regulatory history
If history offers any clues, the answer to that question is a certain “no.” Although the tobacco industry has seemed invincible for much of the 20th century, its power has not always been so unassailable. In fact, the industry once faced a worse fate than it does today.

The government rage against tobacco has its roots in an effort launched at the state level in the 1890s. In 1892, the predecessors of modern-day anti-tobacco zealots petitioned Congress to ban cigarettes, but the Senate Committee on Epidemic Diseases ruled that only states had the authority to act. That decision triggered a slate of statewide bans, beginning with an 1893 statute in Washington and extending to 15 states by 1909. The Supreme Court allowed the bans in a 1900 ruling upholding a Tennessee law.

When Congress Muted The Marlboro Man

Originally published at IntellectualCapital.com
By K. Daniel Glover

With the midnight hour fast approaching, a man sat in front of his television set alone. He wept as the quartet of cowboys, a symbol of masculinity to all the men who had admired them for years, faded off his screen. He knew he would never see them again, and he had Congress to thank for the start of this new era on Jan. 2, 1971.

The man — whose story is told by Pulitzer-prize winning author Richard Kluger in his 1996 history of the tobacco industry, “Ashes to Ashes” — was Jack Landry, once a top advertising official at tobacco giant Philip Morris. And the new era that continues to this day, the one that moved Landry to tears, is one that relegated the Marlboro Man to the pages of magazines and newspapers and bucked him off the airwaves.

The ongoing war against tobacco advertising, the latest salvo being a proposed settlement between government and the industry, has its roots in a battle that began in the mid-1960s and achieved its greatest regulatory milestone 27 years ago this month: the enactment of a law that banned the advertising of cigarettes on television and radio.

Making a case for an advertising ban
The Surgeon General’s office fired the first shot in 1964, when it issued a groundbreaking report on the link between smoking and diseases such as lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and coronary artery disease. That report spurred congressional action. By mid-1965, President Lyndon Johnson had signed into law the first federal anti-smoking legislation, a law that required this warning on the labels of all cigarette packages: “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health.”

By that time, the tobacco industry had earned a reputation as a less-than-honest, albeit effective, advertiser, wrongly boasting of the positive health effects of its products. The Federal Trade Commission sought to eliminate the most outrageous advertising claims, but pro-tobacco forces in Congress had limited the FTC’s powers. For example, the1965 cigarette labeling law contained language that prohibited local, state and federal agencies from requiring the law’s new health warning in cigarette advertisements.

Cigarette makers tried to blunt criticism of their advertisements by promising to police themselves. They announced the creation of a Cigarette Advertising Code in 1964 to deflect charges that companies were targeting the nation’s youth as future smokers, and the National Association of Broadcasters launched its own Advertising Code Authority. But tobacco foes soon exposed those codes for what they were — efforts at self-protection, not the much-ballyhooed self-regulation.

Fighting The Good Fight Against MS

Originally published in the Prince William Journal, April 10, 1997
By K. Daniel Glover

Photo by Susan Covell/Special to the Journal

Photo by Susan Covell/Special to the Journal

When outdoor adventure educator Ann Zabaldo experienced numbness and tingling in her legs in January 1988, she credited it to a spill in the creek.

The strange sensations concerned the then-38-year-old Silver Spring, Md., woman only because of the potential impact on her career. The thought that they could be symptoms of a more debilitating ailment never entered her mind. “It never occurred to me anything was really wrong,” she recalls, “but I figured I was going to be in therapy.”

The symptoms had nothing to do with Zabaldo’s tumble, however. Pictures of her brain taken with a magnetic resonance imaging scanner, or MRI, soon rendered a far different and broader-reaching verdict — multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the central nervous system.

Shortly after the neurological diagnosis, the impact the disease would have on Zabaldo’s life became clear. Her condition worsened, and she found herself virtually bedridden for 30 days.

Although still determined to beat the disease, she realized she would have to sacrifice the profession she had chosen nearly a decade earlier. Zabaldo conducted her last commercial program in May 1988 out of concern for the safety of her backpacking clients.

Now, nine years later, she works out of her home and runs her own company, Az You Like It Cards, which manufactures specialty greeting cards for outdoor enthusiasts. And in her spare time, she fights back the only way she knows how. She volunteers her time, as she has since 1989, for an MRI study at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., and she raises money for the annual MS Walk, scheduled for Saturday.

Zabaldo cannot participate in the walk, but her housemate, Tina, has every year since Zabaldo’s diagnosis. Last year, Tina formed an MS Walk team and named it after Zabaldo’s standard schnauzer, Noah. Team “Noah’s Barque” raised $5,404, putting it fourth among the walk’s top fundraisers.

But more important than even the fundraising, Zabaldo says, is the message that she preaches to her fellow MS patients, which include an estimated 5,000 in the Washington area and some 350,000 in the United States.

“My message to people about MS is that strides are being made in treating this disease, and they are spectacular,” she says. She has had phenomenal symptoms relief from a recent drug, beta seron. “I’ve had no new activity in 2 1/2 years. It’s a total miracle.”