Exploring Human Potential

Why Hillary Clinton’s Private Email Matters: Transparency and Health.

Posted on | March 6, 2015 | Comments Off on Why Hillary Clinton’s Private Email Matters: Transparency and Health.



Mike Magee

Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to avoid the transparency that was assured by the Freedom of Information Act should be of concern to all Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike. If this is true for the general public, it goes doubly for anyone concerned with improving the health of our nation.

This is because health is fundamentally political. The battles between science and religion, industry and environmentalists, protectionists and profiteers, is hard-wired into our democratic process. Debate, compromise, and hopefully wise course corrections, require consensus and agreement on the facts. Debates can go on for years before consensus is reached, as is so well illustrated with global warming. It’s messy for sure, but impossible in the absence of transparency and disclosure.

In every Administration, there are significant battles, only partially visible, being waged in and among the differing wings of government. There is no reason to believe it would be any different with a Hilliary Clinton Administration. To illustrate how contentious things can become, and how we Americans rely on the free flow of information and an active Press Corps, let’s go back to 1988, and an investigative piece by Peter Schmeisser in the New York Times on July 10, 1988 called “Pushing Cigarettes Overseas”. Here’s a paraphrased summation:

A quarter of a century ago, C. Everett Koop shocked the Tobacco Institute, the lobbying arm of Big Tobacco, with the release of a 618-page report that had reviewed 2,000 research papers, and come up with one overlying conclusion: “Tobacco is as addictive as heroin”.

”Smoking is responsible for well over 300,000 deaths annually in the United States,” Koop said on July 10, 1988. Using charts to reinforce the data, he called for a , ”a smoke-free society.”

He faced some stiff opponents, and I’m not talking about R.J.Reynolds or Jesse Helms. I’m talking about members of the federal government, most specifically, the Office of the United States Trade Representative, who were anxious to open lucrative foreign markets to American tobacco.

The Departments of Commerce and State, as well as Southern congressmen, loved the $2.5 billion annually in export revenue and especially the 76% rise in tobacco export revenue in 1987 over the prior year.

There was trouble in the air. Canada had just pulled the plug on all tobacco advertising and established the principle of using warning labels. Additionally activists in Japan (where 63% of the adult population smoked) and China (where 90% of the adult population smoked) were beginning to use wartime language to describe the American advertising assaults, saying for example that “the current clash that pits America against Asia over tobacco and trade is nothing less than a new Opium War.”

There was no question where Koop stood on the issue of exportation. During the press conference that day he said, ”I don’t think that we as citizens can continue to tolerate exporting disease, disability and death.”

With trade officials like Catherine R. Field, associate general council at the trade office, it was business as usual. ”Personally, I have no love of cigarette smoke. But we are not telling people to smoke, we are simply gaining access to an existing market,” is what she said at the time.

Over the recent years, Europe had closed their doors to advertising. But companies like Philip Morris snuck through the back door by linking name and logo to Formula 1 Grand Prix cars. That had been going on since 1972.

Public Health experts like Judith L. Mackay, then executive director of the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health, warned about “the cost in mortality, hospital care, or lost productivity.” Ronald M. Davis, then director of the Centers for Disease Control’s office on smoking and health, agreed with her. He went on record to say, ”My life’s work has been devoted to reducing global morbidity figures, yet in this case we are exporting an obviously hazardous agent. This kind of thing perplexes me as a Government official and frustrates me as a doctor.”

The U.S. Trade Representative and allied Big Tobacco executives had the support of the Reagan Administration, and largely shut down public HHS activities on the issue. Peter S. Allgeier, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative at the time, easily slipped the noose saying that the U.S. loosing out on China’s annual 1.3 trillion cigarette addiction was foolish because “they’re going to smoke whether the U.S. is exporting cigarettes or not.”

David Yen, then chairman of the John Tung Foundation, a Taipei public health organization, had already sent a pleading letter to Reagan asking that the U.S. not use “tobacco as a tool to solve the trade imbalance…We are happy to buy any other American products, but please, don’t push your cigarettes on us.” He was especially worked up about R.J.Reynold’s latest stealth campaign which had sponsored a famous rock band for a concert, and offered tickets which could not be bought for any amount of cash. One could only get a ticket in exchange for 5 empty Winston cigarette packs – if you threw in 5 more, you received a ticket and a souvenir sweatshirt.

Who were the Tobacco Institute’s lobbyists at the time? Former Reagan Administration heavy weights, Michael Deaver and Richard Allen, now prominent Pro-Tobacco players. In the meantime, Jesse Helms was busy sending nasty letters to various country’s Prime Ministers threatening trade tariffs. Of course, he didn’t mention that the U.S. based, Southern companies were not even using North Carolina tobacco leaves at the time. In 1984, R.J. Reynolds had inked a deal with Beijing to harvest leaves and manufacture their product in China for Chinese consumption. Same thing for the Philippines, and on and on.

This caused U.S. Congressman Charles Rose (D, NC) to complain ”The farmers lose income, as the big tobacco corporations break into the Fortune 500.” Helm’s response? ”Our tobacco farmers are experiencing the best of times, with increased quotas…” Rep. Chet Alkins (D, MA) didn’t like the tone of that. He said, that the Reagan Administration was ”sending Asians a message that their lungs are somehow more expendable than American lungs.” Striking a Senior Statesman pose, Strom Thurmond, without cracking a smile said, ”I don’t think that we should dictate to other nations what their health policy should be. . . . That would be interfering with the internal policies of a sovereign nation.”

The president of the Tobacco Institute, added patriotically, ”Tobacco is one of the very few American industries that has the ability to produce a world-class export product.”

In America, we’ve come to expect that our Press will expose characters like these and their unhealthy activities to the light of day. But this is by no means assured. It requires that all of us – including Hillary Clinton – properly balance individual privacy concerns with pressing societal needs for transparency.

For Health Commentary, I’m Mike Magee.


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