We have a full house here at the Austin Club, where we'll be liveblogging Evan Smith's interview with Lance Armstrong.
Smith launches in with questions about the doping investigation.
Armstrong says a doping investigation is "part and parcel of being successful in what is viewed as a dirty sport."
"A guy ran a 2:03 in the Boston Marathon. I read that article, and thought, I wonder what the press conference after the race was like. We now question a superhuman performance."
Armstrong says with athletes like Phelps (swimming) and Federer (tennis), there are a lot of athletes doing things that have never been done before. He said there's a "culture of doubt" in our society, driven largely by the media.
"The truth of the matter is, I've been indicted in the media." Armstrong said he's never even received a target letter in a doping investigation. When Smith asks who's leaking the information, Armstrong says: "I think we know who's leaking..." But won't answer further.
Smith asks, has the doping investigation affected his Livestrong fundraising? Or his own professional sponsorships? He says no. "We haven't seen anything, in terms of a negative impact... This comes at a time when most non-profits are not doing well."
Smith asks about CPRIT, and how it has held up remarkably well against budget cuts at the Lege. Armstrong: "The people of Texas overwhelmingly voted to support it... In terms of the economy itself, and the way this drives the economy, the ability for us to bring in top level researchers... The only unfortunate thing with CPRIT is that we have to review it every two years."
Armstrong: It's very hard to say for me as a lay person, or simply as a cancer survivor. This is a very complicated disease. We will cure all of these issues differently. The work being done there is way beyond us on a scientific level. We have to remind people, cancer is one word, but consists of hundreds and hundreds of different diseases."
Armstrong suggests it's a disease that doesn't discriminate: "I've got 5 kids, and I've won the Tour de France 7 times, no matter what anybody says."
Smith asks about Armstrong going to Washington to lobby Congress against cuts. "We didn't know we would be in this budget position now when we were dreaming up and campaigning for Prop 15." He's pushing a similar initiative in California.
Smith asks, whether at a time of budget problems, government coffers can afford to be putting money into cancer research.
Armstrong: That's a complicated issue. We've gotten into this place where we funded the NCI. We are what we are. Smith: But circumstances are different now, aren't they? Armstrong: The disease is not going away. It's a perfect storm. I think there's also a place for big pharma and private business. But I would also, I think the key there is collaboration. Let's not repeat bad science. If we know something doesn't work, let's move on.
Smith asks about Armstrong's smoke-free push, which has struggled in past sessions.
Armstrong: You sholud've been on the Altria website. They're smart and they have deep pockets. Their argument in Texas is it's peoples' rights to smoke. That we're stepping on their rights.
Armstrong: "When you are jeopardizing the life and health of other people around you, you lose your rights."
Armstrong: "It will pass. It's only a question of when. This is the most momentum we've had. We've tried a few times. This is the best chance we have so far." Armstrong says Dublin, Paris are smoke-free. "If they can do it, why the hell can't we do it?"
Armstrong: "It's very hard to debate the economic impact. The majority of people don't smoke."
Armstrong has been pushing for $1 a pack tax in California that would raise $600 million a year for cancer research. "Big tobacco would tell the people of California, these guys are going to come in here and tax the hell out of you... The impression there is we're the most heavily taxed state in the union. It's pretty much in line with the national standard."
"I never thought we could do anything bigger than Prop 15" — and the California plan would raise twice as much, he says.
"Big tobacco, if they have to, would raise $12 or $13 million" to defeat it.
Armstrong says Livestrong strongly supported health care reform, largely because of coverage for pre-existing conditions, children. Cancer is "tremendously expensive," he said. "15 years ago, people could've look at me, and said, theres a risk you'll be re-diagnosed, you relapse."
Smith asks about Armstrong's current health.
Armstrong: I think I'm doing pretty good. I was out at Uchi a little late last night, so I don't feel that great.
"When I was diagnosed in 1996, I banked sperm. Kristin and I had the first three kids through IVF. A couple of years ago, I decided to come back and get on the bike. That was not the only thing that came back. In 2008-09 there were two comebacks." (His two other kids.)
Smith: Is there anything else, legislatively, that you'd like to push?
Armstrong says nothing at present. "I think they're all very important. It will take all of our time, all of our effort, all of our energy and passion... And great partners in that pink building."
Questions from the audience begin.
A man asks why insurance companies don't cover smoking cessation treatments. Armstrong: The way they view certain expenses... is astounding. They view $100,000 open heart surgeries as no big deal. Probably the result of smoking for 35 years. The key there is prevention. If we can intervene in the life of a 15-year-old... I look at that and say, we just cured that person. That's a cancer cure right now."
Q. How does the country now perceive Texas in the fight against cancer?
Armstrong says amazing scientists are moving to Texas because of CPRIT. "You hear stories like that which are national stories, because you're poaching people from other places. That tells you you've done the right thing."
Q. We're faced with a $27 billion shortfall -- why do we need to be funding cancer research?
Armstrong: You see the impact of this disease daily... specifically here in Texas. Anytime in our culture, civilization, we face these wars, we invest in the wars. This is maybe not a great time to use a war analogy. But this is a war. Anything that comes along and steals people from you, you have to try and fix."
On cancer: "Nobody wants this to end more than I do."
Q. When you talk to lawmakers about your initiative, do you get a stronger sense from those who have personal experiences with cancer?
Armstrong says everyone has a personal connection to the disease. "Everybody in this room. Has it taken anybody? Scared anybody? You always have some sort of connection."
Q. Would you support a stem cell institute here in Texas?
Armstrong: That is a very very controversial thing. We've always supported it. We've supported it in other states. I look at that and see, I've got a few friends with Parkinson's, you see how devastating that disease is. If you could give that friend or that person some relief, I think you have to explore that. And I understand it's a very sensitive subject.
Q. What about the role Livestrong plays in smaller scale fundraising and grassroots initiatives.
Armstrong: "While we don't feel like we're selling lemonade on the corner... it's all so important. Whether you're raising $10, $1,000, $1 million, it's the people being involved and included and really building that base of support. People look at this disease... what's the problem, why are we still losing all these people. We need people to share their stories, be enlisted in this army of support."
Armstrong on health care professionals: "The nurses are the people who keep it all together. I tried to be very good friends with my doctors, but I was much closer with my nurses."
Q. Do you think shock ads work for second hand smoke?
Armstrong: I don't know. We could certainly find out if they work. They do those with drinking and driving, smoking ad with the Marlboro man. They must be testing these messages with their core group to know.
Q. I feel as a smoker like we've really been ostracized already. I understand people are trying to do something good for us. Do you feel this is the best way to get people to quit smoking?
Armstrong: I completely agree. If you talk to Bloomberg, who made New York City smoke-free. The smokers are standing outside. He'll tell you that is one of the biggest deterrents they've seen.
Armstrong: "With you, we're past the idea of prevention. It's about cessation. It must be a hell of a hard thing to stop. Yes, we absolutely have to help you stop smoking, and so, I don't -- I feel for you, and I wouldn't judge somebody. Because you smoke a cigarette you're not Adolf Hitler."