WASHINGTONHe was the man the tobacco industry loved to hateand for good reason. While serving as Commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 1990 to 1997, David Kessler, MD, led a long investigation of the tobacco companies.
In his book, A Question of Intent (Public Affairs, 2001), Dr. Kessler, both a physician and an attorney, describes in fascinating detail his years spent battling cigarette makers. Dr. Kessler, who now serves as dean of the Yale University School of Medicine, spoke with ONI’s Washington Bureau Chief Patrick Young about his battles with the tobacco industry and the war that’s still smoldering.
Oncology News International: Your book contains a quote about retribution: "The guilty have a head start, and retribution is always slow of foot, but it catches up." Are we catching up with the tobacco industry?
Dr. Kessler: We are chipping away. We now know what they have known for 50 years. We know that they knew they were selling an addictive drug and that they have been manipulating nicotine(Drug information on nicotine) levels to sustain smokers’ addiction. That’s 50 years during which they put the nation’s health at risk. We’ll never catch up entirely, but we have made some progress.
ONI: But the industry seems as healthy as everprofits are up and there’s an increase in domestic demand. Did your efforts fail?
Dr. Kessler: No. The one measure more than any other that the tobacco industry has tracked over the past 100 years is social acceptability. All their advertising, all their promotionit was not aimed at getting any individual to pick up a cigarette; it was aimed at maintaining the public perception of smoking as something that ordinary people did for pleasure and satisfaction, something that was socially acceptable. They don’t have that any more.
ONI: What was the defining moment when you knew you had to take on the tobacco industry?