From “Social Acceptability” to “A Deadly, Disgusting, Addictive Product”
Groundbreaking advocate David Kessler reflects on 15-Year battle against tobacco
Posted by: Editor | Aug 5, 2011
David Kessler, the path-breaking former Food and Drug Administration commissioner who began the push for FDA regulation of tobacco during the mid-1990s, reflected recently on progress in the struggle against the tobacco industry, and the critical changes in social attitudes toward smoking that have taken hold in just the past 15 years.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Kessler, who is now a professor of pediatrics at the University of California in San Francisco, talked about how regulators' persistence in posing an initial question — "Is nicotine a drug?" — helped lead to a sea change in social attitudes and eventually to the landmark 2009 law giving the FDA authority to regulate deadly tobacco products.
"What the industry cared about more than anything else, and the numbers that it followed most closely, was the social acceptability of smoking," Kessler said. "(Smokers) used to view the product as something that was their friend, as something that made them feel better, as something they needed."
After years of effort at exposing the health threat from tobacco and the industry's deceptions, public attitudes have been reversed.
"Today we view the product for what it is: a deadly, disgusting, addictive product. And that social shift is the most important thing that the collective public health community has accomplished. And government regulations are tools to affect those social norms."