Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Will World Health Organization Declare that Winston Cigarettes are Safer and/or Less Enticing to Kids than Other Cigarettes?

According to an article in the Louisville Journal-Courier, Kentucky's main crop - burley tobacco - could be devastated by regulations being proposed by a working group of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

How could this be?

Well, the story is a bit convoluted, but here it is:

On May 15, the Working Group on Articles 9 and 10 of FCTC issued draft recommendations for implementation of the treaty's provisions related to the regulation of tobacco product ingredients. The basis of these recommendations is that tobacco companies should not be allowed to add any compounds to their products which increase the appeal, attractiveness, or palatability of the product.

The draft recommendations state: "Tobacco products are commonly made to be attractive in order to encourage their use. From the perspective of public health, there is no justification for permitting the use of ingredients, such as flavouring agents, which help make tobacco products attractive."

Based on the above, the working group recommends as follows: "Parties should either prohibit or restrict ingredients that may be used to increase palatability, such as sugars and sweeteners, flavouring substances, and spices and herbs, in cigarette-like tobacco products. Parties should prohibit or restrict ingredients that have colouring properties, such as inks and pigments, in cigarette-like tobacco products."

Now, the clincher here is that burley tobacco tends to be so bitter that it requires some flavorings to be added in order to make it palatable. So while the proposed ban on cigarette additives is not designed specifically to prohibit the use of burley tobacco, it results in a de facto ban on burley tobacco because without additives, the use of burley tobacco becomes unfeasible for taste reasons.

Since a major part of the economy, especially in states like Kentucky, is threatened, the key question is whether there is any scientific or public health justification for the proposed ban on cigarette additives.

The Rest of the Story

To answer the above question, we need to examine closely the public health community's response to Winston cigarettes, which according to both its producer and its competitors, does not contain any additives.

Remember that laboratory studies conducted on the re-formulated Winston cigarettes confirmed that these products were in fact 100% tobacco with no additives. Interestingly, these analytic studies were carried out by British American Tobacco, which concluded that the no-additive Winston cigarette "seems to be truly a product with no additives." There were no humectants, no added sugars, no flavorings, and no added ammonia.

The question to the World Health Organization, then, is this: Does WHO acknowledge that Winston cigarettes are a significant public health advancement over all other brands because the absence of additives makes these cigarettes less attractive to youths?

In response to Winston's "no additive" campaign, the public health groups went berserk. They complained to the Federal Trade Commission. They blasted R.J. Reynolds for wildly misleading consumers about the relative safety of these cigarettes. The FTC stated, quite clearly, that there is no evidence that "cigarettes without additives are safer to smoke than other cigarettes." Reynolds was eventually forced to put a disclaimer on all of its advertisements stating that "No additives does not mean a safer cigarette."

Moreover, none of the anti-smoking groups, including the WHO, applauded R.J. Reynolds for having produced a cigarette with less appeal to youths. Not a single one of these anti-smoking groups congratulated Reynolds for putting out a cigarette with no additives, which would lead to substantially less enticement of youth.

Here, then, is the fascinating conundrum for the WHO and the FCTC working groups. If they argue that there is a public health justification for banning all cigarette additives, then they must acknowledge that Winston cigarettes are a significant public health advancement and that R.J. Reynolds has produced a product that significantly contributes toward public health objectives.

On the other hand, if they refuse to acknowledge that Reynolds' Winston cigarettes are a public health advancement, then they are admitting that there is no public health justification for their proposed regulations that would ban all cigarette additives.

Which will it be?

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