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

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

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by David Kessler

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

It's now acknowledged that for decades tobacco companies lied to the public about the health risks inherent in smoking and the addictive qualities of nicotine. They had the money to keep hordes of lawyers on call at all times, and they used bullying tactics to keep hidden the truth about the dangers of smoking. So it's remarkable to think that a small government agency, with a relatively tiny budget, was able to take them on and win. A Question of Intent is the David vs. Goliath story of David Kessler and the Food and Drug Administration and their victory over the big tobacco companies. This remarkable account reads like a legal thriller, but it's all true.
New Yorker
[I]mparts an enormous amount of legal, political, and scientific information while maintaining the narrative drive of a thriller.
Business Week
...compelling...Kessler has pioneered an oxymoronic literary genre—the policy thriller.
Peter Pringle
...a shocking narrative of the anti-tobacco crusade that he still wages as dean of the Yale University School of Medicine. Kessler's raiders delved into the dark corners of the secretive industry, wringing inside information out of anonymous, nervous and often unstable industry finks. Cleverly, Kessler branded smoking as a "pediatric disease" -- and that finally got the attention of President Clinton, who, in a private meeting with Kessler about the tobacco industry's marketing to teenagers, angrily blurted, "I want to kill them."
Washington Post
David Kusnet
Radicalized by the industry's cynicism, Kessler now favors dismantling, not regulating, the corporations that make and sell cigarettes. ''It has become apparent,'' he concludes, ''that nothing else will work.'' If anything approaching this proposal ever comes to pass, historians will give a great deal of the credit to the indefatigable David Kessler, who took on an influential but irresponsible industry. One of his offhand observations should be memorized by careerists both inside and outside the Beltway: ''The challenge in Washington, I began to realize, was not getting a job, but figuring out what to do with it.''
New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"My understanding of the industry's power finally forced me to see that... the solution to the smoking problem rests with the bottom line, prohibiting the tobacco companies from continuing to reap profits from the sale of a deadly addictive drug.... " These strong words from Kessler, now dean of the Yale University School of Medicine and commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from 1990 to 1997, testify to his commitment to regulating tobacco, as well as to the frustration involved in taking on the powerful tobacco industry. In understated, lucid language, he details how his interest in smoking as a public health issue grew into a full-scale investigation into the practices of the tobacco industry. Drawing on legal and scientific research and the notes he kept during his terms as commissioner, Kessler documents how the team he assembled built a case that implicated the industry in nicotine manipulation that increased the addictiveness of cigarettes. With the assistance of informants like Jeffrey Wigand, a former Brown and Williamson researcher and subject of the film The Insider, the team learned about genetically altered plants created to produce higher nicotine levels. Kessler indicts the tobacco industry for lying to Congress and the public about these activities, denying the strong relationship between smoking and lung cancer and launching ad campaigns to encourage smoking, particularly among children. With the backing of Vice-President Al Gore, the FDA issued regulations to curb smoking that were eventually overturned by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in early 2000. This is an important study of the influence of big tobacco and the high cost to the public health of the nation that smoking has caused. (Jan. 10) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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Read an Excerpt

Mele thought for a moment. "There's no reason why I can't tell you. It was a paper that Vic and I wrote for a journal called Psychopharmacology, but it was never published. Philip Morris made us withdraw it."

That's it, thought Gary. That's what we're looking for...

"A year after we left Philip Morris, we resubmitted the nicotine article to Psychopharmacology," Mele said. "We figured that after so much time we might get away with it."

"What happened?" asked Tom.

"Same thing as happened the first time. Philip Morris found out about it, and they exercised the confidentiality clause in our contracts. They threatened to sue if we tried to publish. We had to withdraw it again." After that they stopped trying.

Mele was still on the speakerphone, and Mitch leaned forward as he said, "We would very much like to see this paper, but we understand you no longer have a copy."

"That's right."

"Aside from DeNoble, do you have any idea who might have one?"

"I'm sorry, no."

Mitch tried another tack. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I imagine that like any other scientific paper, this one must have gone through a peer review process. Am I right?"

"That's right."

"Would you happen to remember the name of the journal's editor?"

There was a silence, and then Mele said, "He was called a Field Editor, and I think his name was Barry."

"First or second name?"

"Surname. That's right, it was Herbert Barry. I think he was at the University of Pittsburgh."

"Any idea what department?"

"Pharmacology, I guess. It would have to be."

Mitch turned to me and gave a silent thumbs-up. His lips formed the word, Bingo!

Excerpted by permission of PublicAffairs, Inc. Copyright © 2001 David Kessler.

What People are saying about this

Jonathan Harr
David Kessler tells an important story full of intrigue and politics and he does so lucidly and with great passion.

Meet the Author

David Kessler is Dean of the Yale University School of Medicine. He served as Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, from 1990 to 1997. Kessler is a graduate of Amherst College, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Chicago Law School. He lives in Connecticut with his family.

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Question of Intent: A Great American Battle with a Deadly Industry 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book has truly impacted my life. Hats off to Kessler!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent book. I had to read it for my Pub class and i just enjoyed it. I never knew that rats was willing to give up food and water for nicotine as most smokers do.