According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, one of the main purposes of the FDA tobacco legislation is to: "empower the FDA authority to require changes in tobacco products, such as the removal or reduction of harmful ingredients" in order to make cigarettes less harmful and thus to save "countless lives."
The basic regulatory approach taken in the legislation is to ask the FDA to determine which components in cigarette are most responsible for disease and to require the reduction or elimination of those components.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids makes it sound simple. Just pass this legislation and the FDA will require the reduction or elimination of several of the harmful constituents in tobacco and tobacco smoke, cigarettes will be safer, and we will save millions of lives.
Another major benefit of the legislation, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other health groups, is that it would require the cigarette companies to disclose the ingredients of cigarettes and the components of tobacco smoke. Doing so will produce informed consumers who can then make an educated decision about whether to smoke. They will finally know exactly what is in the smoke that they are inhaling.
The Rest of the Story
According to an authoritative textbook on the chemical components of tobacco and tobacco smoke written by two eminent R.J. Reynolds analytic chemists, consumers will never know what is in the smoke they are inhaling because there are probably 10,000, if not 100,000 chemicals in the smoke -- most of which have not even been identified (see: Rodgman A, Perfetti TA. The Chemical Components of Tobacco and Tobacco Smoke. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2008).
In the book, Rodgman and Perfetti review and catalog over 8400 tobacco and tobacco smoke components (this is substantially more than the 4,000 chemicals number that is typically cited). According to these R.J. Reynolds scientists, cigarette smoke alone contains more than 5300 chemicals: "The number of identified components in cigarette tobacco smoke has increased almost 100-fold from the fifty definitively identified tobacco smoke components listed by Kosak to the more than 5300 components identified to date and cataloged by RJRT personnel."
Importantly, however, these R.J. Reynolds chemists note that the actual number of constituents in tobacco smoke is most likely much higher, because for every identified chemical, there are probably many more unidentified ones: "Despite the identification of over 5200 additional smoke components since the 1954 listing by Kosak, various investigators have estimated from gas chromatographic scans that for each component identified in tobacco smoke there are five to twenty components present at extremely low per cigarette yields that have not yet been identified."
In fact, Rodgman and Perfetti cite gas chromatographic evidence that the true number of constituents in tobacco and tobacco smoke is probably more than 10,000 and may even be as high as 100,000: "Gas chromatographic scans indicate there are many more, probably over ten thousand, possibly even a hundred thousand tobacco smoke components."
The Implications of this Science for the FDA Tobacco Legislation and Its Approach
The most important implication of the science of tobacco smoke is that it exposes the absurdity of the FDA tobacco legislation's regulatory approach. The best the FDA can do is to regulate the levels of a few of the more than 10,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of the chemicals in tobacco smoke have not even been identified. So how can the FDA hope to improve the safety of the product by removing or lowering the levels of just a few of the identified components? We don't even know what the majority of the chemicals in tobacco smoke are and we have no idea what role these unidentified chemicals play in the health effects of cigarette smoking.
When you have a product with over 10,000 chemical constituents, regulating the levels of a select few of these constituents is simply not a reasonable, sensible, science-based approach to the problem. The FDA legislation is not a science-based policy. It is a pure political maneuver, designed to have the appearance of being a bona fide health measure, but in reality being a complete scam that will institutionalize cigarettes, create an FDA seal of approval for cigarettes, protect existing cigarette products from competition from potentially safer ones, and protect the profits of Philip Morris.
A second important implication of this science is that it makes absolutely no contribution to the public's health to require the cigarette companies to disclose the components of cigarettes. Consumers will not be informed about the exact constituents in the smoke they are inhaling. In fact, they will not be aware of most of the components in the smoke. There will remain at least 6,000 chemicals in their smoke about which they are not informed. The cigarette companies do not even know most of the constituents in tobacco smoke. How are they supposed to disclose these unknown constituents? In reality, there is no way that the companies can actually comply with this aspect of the legislation.
But more importantly, what possible use is it for consumers to have this information? Frankly, the information is already available. Anyone interested can just read Dr. Rodgman's and Dr. Perfetti's excellent book. The known components are beautifully and exquisitely cataloged.
But what difference does this make? How does it change anything? How does it contribute in any way to the protection of the public's health? The whole idea makes no sense.
A third implication of this science is that it demonstrates how completely off-base the anti-smoking groups are in demanding that electronic cigarettes be taken off the market. Here we have an alternative product that is sparing smokers exposure to more than 10,000 chemicals (and maybe 100,000) and these supposed health groups want to take it off the market so that these unfortunate individuals are forced to go back to inhaling the thousands and thousands of chemicals instead.
Public policy ought to be formulated based on science, not politics. Unfortunately, exactly the opposite has occurred with the FDA tobacco legislation. It was crafted in order to create the appearance that it is a valuable health measure, when in reality it is a special interest protection bill for Philip Morris.