Bill Novelli is CEO of AARP, a membership organization of 40 million people age 50 and older, half of whom remain actively employed. AARP’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for all as we age. Prior to joining AARP, Mr. Novelli was President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, whose mandate is to change public policies and the social environment, limit tobacco companies’ marketing and sales practices to children and serve as a counterforce to the tobacco industry and its special interests. He now serves as chairman of the board. He was also Executive Vice President of CARE, the world’s largest private relief and development organization.
Mr. Novelli is a recognized leader in social marketing and social change, and has managed programs in cancer control, diet and nutrition, cardiovascular health, reproductive health, infant survival, pay increases for educators, charitable giving and other programs in the U.S. and the developing world. His book, 50+: Give Meaning and Purpose to the Best Time of Your Life, was updated in 2008. Mr. Novelli serves on a number of boards and advisory committees. He holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.A. from Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication, and pursued doctoral studies at New York University.
Question: Should the government regulate the tobacco industry?
Bill Novelli: Well, tobacco is not an ordinary product. So when you’re looking for that balance between, you know, public government oversight and individual responsibility and individual liberties, the line for tobacco is not exactly where it should be with cheeseburgers. Tobacco is the only product which, if you use as directed, it kills you. And of course 80% of all those who become addicted to tobacco become addicted as kids. And so we have a government . . . a national obligation to protect our children. And that’s why the line should be sharper for tobacco than for other products. That’s why we need FDA oversight over tobacco. We need taxes on top of tobacco. We need public education campaigns. And we need to really reign in the tobacco industry.
Question: Do you have a specific policy in mind?
Peter Novelli: There’s a law that’s pending right now as we discuss this. It is to give the food and drug administration oversight over tobacco so that it would be regulated for the first time. Right now you can bring out, you know, a new product of any kind – a new soft drink – easier than you can bring out . . . Oh excuse me. It’s the other way around. Let me try that again. Today you can bring out a tobacco product – a cigarette – far, far easier than you can bring out a new food product because there’s no regulation. There’s no oversight. It’s a historic accident and we have to fix it.
Question: What effects does tobacco have on your AARP constituents?
Peter Novelli: Tobacco kills people later in life. We’re talking about 45, 50, 60, 70 years old. And of course when you’re a kid, you think you’re immortal and invincible, and you don’t think about being 55 or 65 years old. And so that’s why it’s so insidious. It starts early and it kills later. And as far as our members are concerned, what we try to tell them is it’s never too late to quit. You can quit smoking and reap benefits from it.
Recorded on: 9/27/07