A Question of Intent : A Great American Battle With A Deadly Industry

Kessler, David A.

Published by PublicAffairs, 2001
ISBN 10: 1891620800 / ISBN 13: 9781891620805
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Synopsis: From the controversial former FDA commissioner: the surprisingly gripping, suspenseful, inside story of how the FDA confronted the tobacco industry.. Tobacco companies had been protecting their turf for decades. They had congressmen in their pocket. They had corrupt scientists who made excuses about nicotine, cancer and addiction. They had hordes of lawyers to threaten anyone--inside the industry or out--who posed a problem. They had a whole lot of money to spend. And they were good at getting people to do what they wanted them to do. After all, they had already convinced millions of Americans to take up an addictive, unhealthy, and potentially deadly habit.David Kessler didn't care about all that. In this book he tells for the first time the thrilling detective story of how the underdog FDA--while safeguarding the nation's food, drugs, and blood supply--finally decided to take on one of the world's most powerful opponents, and how it won. Like A Civil Action or And the Band Played On, A Question of Intent weaves together science, law, and fascinating characters to tell an important and often unexpectedly moving story. We follow Kessler's team of investigators as they race to find the clues that will allow the FDA to assert jurisdiction over cigarettes, while the tobacco companies and their lawyers fight back--hard. Full of insider information and drama, told with wit, and animated by its author's moral passion, A Question of Intent reads like a Grisham thriller, with one exception--everything in it is true. Tobacco companies had been protecting their turf for decades. They had congressmen in their pocket. They had corrupt scientists who made excuses about nicotine, cancer and addiction. They had hordes of lawyers to threaten anyone--inside the industry or out--who posed a problem. They had a whole lot of money to spend. And they were good at getting people to do what they wanted them to do. After all, they had already convinced millions of Americans to take up an addictive, unhealthy, and potentially deadly habit.David Kessler didn't care about all that. In this book he tells for the first time the thrilling detective story of how the underdog FDA--while safeguarding the nation's food, drugs, and blood supply--finally decided to take on one of the world's most powerful opponents, and how it won. Like A Civil Action or And the Band Played On, A Question of Intent weaves together science, law, and fascinating characters to tell an important and often unexpectedly moving story. We follow Kessler's team of investigators as they race to find the clues that will allow the FDA to assert jurisdiction over cigarettes, while the tobacco companies and their lawyers fight back--hard. Full of insider information and drama, told with wit, and animated by its author's moral passion, A Question of Intent reads like a Grisham thriller, with one exception--everything in it is true. *More detail, drama, and inside information on the whistle-blowers, investigators, and major players in the campaign against Big Tobacco A great read for anyone who likes gripping narrative nonfiction or relishes a terrific, true detective story .

Review: This is the David-and-Goliath story of how an American bureaucrat took on the tobacco industry--and helped topple it. David Kessler, head of the Food and Drug Administration for seven years under Presidents Bush and Clinton, earned the nickname "Eliot Knessler" from The Washington Post--a pun meant to evoke the memory of the Prohibition-era gangbuster--because he rejuvenated a moribund agency. The FDA regulated, in Kessler's words, "one quarter of every dollar Americans spent--from the food they eat to the drugs they take to the cosmetics they wear." Yet it lacked the courage to take on the country's most lethal product: cigarettes. So did Kessler, at least initially. He agreed with aides and others that Big Tobacco was too powerful a force in Washington, D.C. "The industry perceived threats everywhere, and responded to them ferociously," he writes. Moreover, challenging the industry would waste important resources that could have a more tangible benefit for consumers if they were spent elsewhere. Even before making the choice to go after cigarettes, Kessler was a figure of controversy, and this only intensified when he became one of the few Republican holdovers in the Clinton administration.

Much of the book deals with the routine business of the FDA: orange-juice seizures, a fight to restrict the sale of body tissues from foreign sources, how he responded to complaints that syringes were found in Pepsi cans, and so on. But the driving force behind Kessler's narrative is how he slowly woke up to the possibility of regulating cigarettes. "It is too easy to be swayed by the argument that tobacco is a legal product and should be treated like any other," he writes. "A product that kills people--when used as intended--is different. No one should be allowed to make a profit from that." His story is a lesson in Washington power politics--a game he played with naiveté when he started but was expert at by the end of his tenure.

To say Kessler and his team of FDA regulators "defeated" Big Tobacco is an overstatement: they were part of a broader effort that included trial lawyers, consumer groups, and crusading journalists, and the industry hasn't exactly gone away. But they were instrumental in forcing tobacco companies to admit that nicotine is addictive and cigarettes cause cancer, and in bringing about a sea change in the industry's legal and popular standing. Kessler now believes in regulation so tight it will strangle Big Tobacco forever: "If our goal is to halt this manmade epidemic," he writes, "the tobacco industry, as currently configured, needs to be dismantled." A Question of Intent is a well-told muckraker. It unfolds deliberately, like a good detective story. Admirers of Jonathan Harr's A Civil Action, especially those with a taste for public policy, won't be disappointed. --John J. Miller

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Title: A Question of Intent : A Great American ...
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Publication Date: 2001
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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