According to an Associated Press story, the first action that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will take to protect our nation from the hazards of tobacco use - under its new authority granted by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act - is to study the ingredients of cigarettes to determine if they pose any hazard to health.
According to the story: "In June, tobacco companies must tell the FDA their formulas for the first time, just as drugmakers have for decades. Manufacturers also will have to turn over any studies they've done on the effects of the ingredients. It's an early step for an agency just starting to flex muscles granted by a new law that took effect last June that gives it broad power to regulate tobacco far beyond the warnings now on packs, short of banning it outright. Companies have long acknowledged using cocoa, coffee, menthol and other additives to make tobacco taste better. The new information will help the FDA determine which ingredients might also make tobacco more harmful or addictive. It will also use the data to develop standards for tobacco products and could ban some ingredients or combinations."
"'Tobacco products today are really the only human-consumed product that we don't know what's in them,' Lawrence R. Deyton, the director of the Food and Drug Administration's new Center for Tobacco Products and a physician, told The Associated Press in a recent interview."
"While the FDA must keep much of the data confidential under trade-secret laws, it will publish a list of harmful and potentially harmful ingredients by June 2011. Under the law, it must be listed by quantity in each brand. Some tobacco companies have voluntarily listed product ingredients online in recent years but never with the specificity they must give the FDA, said Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. For example, Altria Group Inc., based in Richmond and the parent company of the nation's largest tobacco maker, Philip Morris USA, has posted general ingredients on its Web site since at least 1999. Cigarette makers say their products include contain tobacco, water, sugar and flavorings, along with chemicals like diammonium phosphate, a chemical used to improve burn rate and taste, and ammonium hydroxide, used to improve the taste. Scientific studies suggest those chemicals also could make the body more easily absorb nicotine, the active and addictive component of tobacco. 'Until now, the tobacco companies were free to manipulate their product in ways to maximize sales, no matter the impact on the number of people who died or became addicted,' Myers said. 'The manner of disclosure previously made it impossible for the government to make any meaningful assessments.'"
The Rest of the Story
This is a complete waste of time and resources. Is this the appropriate approach to dealing with a product that we already know is killing thousands of Americans each year? Study the additives to make sure the companies aren't adding anything "harmful" to the tobacco? God forbid if cigarettes don't deliver pure tobacco.
There is also nothing new here. We already have a complete list of the cigarette additives and a list of the more than 4,000 known chemicals in tobacco smoke. Has that helped us to develop a safer cigarette? Frankly, this is complete stupidity. Actually, it's not stupidity. It's a political stunt, designed to make people feel like health groups and politicians are doing something, when they're really not.
Jeff Stier and Dr. Gil Ross of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) have already pointed out how inane and counterproductive this action is: "'The FDA is missing the main point,' says Stier. 'There's one really dangerous ingredient in cigarettes, and it's called 'burning tobacco.' They're worried about additives as if they'll find some other ingredient they can ban and suddenly people will be able to smoke safely.'"
"'This is a smokescreen,' says Dr. Ross. 'It's exactly what we predicted would happen when they passed this misguided law. Listing or even eliminating various ingredients is counterproductive, since it gives people the illusion that cigarettes are safer when they are not.'"
The end result of this senseless bureaucratic waste will be, at best, the following:
"According to a statement released earlier today, the Food and Drug Administration has determined that the tobacco in the cigarettes many Americans are smoking is not pure. To protect the health of American citizens, the FDA is banning these harmful additives from cigarettes. From now on, the cigarettes that smokers enjoy will contain pure tobacco, free of any undue health concerns. The cigarettes the Agency approves will now adhere to the safest, most stringent health standards in history."
"The FDA director stated: 'While we don't care if hundreds of thousands of people die from cigarettes, we don't want any of those deaths to be due to the use of unpure tobacco, adulterated with harmful additives.' The head of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids added: 'This is going to save countless lives. We have finally ended the ability of Big Tobacco to poison our children by secretly, and in a sinister manner, adding harmful ingredients to the otherwise pure tobacco in their cigarettes.'"
"In response to the FDA's action, Philip Morris stated: 'As a responsible company that is committed to protecting the health of our customers, we are pleased to comply with the FDA's ban on harmful cigarette additives. Our cigarette brands will continue to meet the needs of market demand for our products, but without any hazards posed by toxic chemical additives. We look forward to complying with these strict new safety standards promulgated by the Food and Drug Administration.'"
"Federal regulators have long known the chemical ingredients in cigarettes as well as the names of 4,000 of the chemicals produced by the combustion of tobacco. Asked whether the removal of a few of these ingredients from cigarettes will result in a safer cigarette, an FDA source who spoke on condition of anonymity responded: "Well, in our opinion, even if you remove all the ingredients from cigarettes except the nicotine by producing an electronic cigarette, you don't have a safer product. Actually, what you have is a product that we are trying to get taken off the market. So what kind of stupid question are you asking? If taking all the ingredients out doesn't produce a safer cigarette, then how will taking just a few of the ingredients out help the matter?"
Anti-smoking pundit Michael Siegel issued a statement in which he said: "What a senseless waste of resources. We have put a lot of time and money into studying the ingredients of cigarettes and what have we learned? Nothing new. There are hazardous chemicals in cigarettes. Duh. We kind of already knew that... . Instead of worrying about the ingredients of cigarettes, the FDA should be using its resources to try to get people not to smoke. Prevent kids from smoking. Encourage smokers to quit. There's no need to put these kind of federal resources into studying the health hazards of smoking. We already know that this stuff is harmful for people. Now we need to do something to try to reduce smoking rates."
Siegel added: "I can see why people are increasingly frustrated with the federal bureaucracy and its inaction on major health issues. We don't have true health care reform because politicians went to bed with the insurance and pharmaceutical companies. And we don't have true tobacco control reform and a meaningful federal approach to the leading cause of preventable disease because our politicians and leading health groups went to bed with Philip Morris. If we can just get our politicians to be sleeping with each other rather than with industry, then they can be doing to each other what they're currently doing to us ."
1. Adapted from a quote by Arlo Guthrie, 1982, Warner Brothers Records.