Thursday, April 28, 2016

Throwback Thursday: April 28th, 1986 (30 Years Ago): Anti-Tobacco Groups Blast Cigarette Companies for Not Supporting Development of a Safer Cigarette

April 28, 1986 (AP, New York): Today, a coalition of anti-smoking organizations, heath agencies, and researchers are attacking the nation's cigarette companies for failing to support the development of much safer cigarettes. Health officials complained that for many years, cigarette companies have had the technology to produce a much safer cigarette, but have failed to show any support for even the idea of manufacturing a safer product.

Also today, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard, Brown & Williamson and Liggett, alleging that each of these companies could easily have produced a much safer cigarette that didn't contain tobacco and didn't involve combustion.

According to the lead attorney for the plaintiffs: "It is absolutely feasible for the cigarette companies to produce a product that looks exactly like a cigarette, but which contains no tobacco and doesn't rely on burning anything. Instead, such a product would merely heat a solution of vegetable glycerin in which nicotine was dissolved. The resulting aerosol would contain a few chemicals, but would be vastly safer than the tens of thousands of chemicals and more than 60 human carcinogens present in cigarette smoke."

A University of California, San Francisco professor who spoke at today's press conference stated: "This is a no-brainer. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you remove the tobacco and the combustion process, you're going to have a much safer product. We don't need to do 10 years of research to find that out."

Cigarette market leader Philip Morris lashed out at the anti-smoking groups, disputing their claims that a non-tobacco, non-combusted, cigarette-like product would offer any health benefits: "We have not seen to this point evidence that contradicts the idea that putting something in your mouth, a stick-like device, and inhaling is not risky."

A spokesperson for R.J. Reynolds noted that even if you reduce the toxic emissions by 99%, the product is still hazardous, emphasizing that with such a product, "the emissions are not merely harmless water vapor."

Lorillard actually produced and circulated a brochure entitled "Not Harmless Water Vapor" which notes that even if a safer product were to emit just a small number of chemicals, it still could be hazardous. Lead counsel for Lorillard said that he looked forward to defending his company in court, saying: "We are going to have a field day in the courtroom. We have incontrovertible evidence that the product health groups are asking us to make does not just emit harmless water vapor."

London-based British American Tobacco, the parent company of Brown and Williamson, told the Associated Press that anti-tobacco groups in the U.S. are unique in their "extreme enthusiasm" for a non-tobacco cigarette. "They're quite blind to some of the concerns that people in other countries are expressing."

The president of the American Lung Association told the AP that while some of the tobacco companies initially tested a non-nicotine, non-combusted device back in 1977, and it proved to be quite acceptable to smokers, the companies have since abandoned further development of the product.

Liggett's spokesman defended his company, arguing that these purportedly safer products "have only been around since about 1977 and that's a very, very short period by which to determine whether they are as safe as everybody hopes they will be." He argued that it will take years, even decades, before we understand the full spectrum of potential risks from these products.

Philip Morris added another concern - the possibility that even if these products turn out to be much safer than conventional cigarettes, they might still have a negative public health impact because they could lead kids to smoking the real thing. A Philip Morris public relations spokesman stated: "There's no question that they are a gateway to smoking tobacco cigarettes." He added that: "Many kids are starting out with these imitation products and then going on to smoke conventional cigarettes. These allegedly healthier products are condemning many kids to struggling with a lifelong addiction to nicotine."

When pressed to provide evidence to back up his claim, he said: "We know this because in test markets, there were many kids who used these alternative products and who also smoked. This proves that these alternative products are a gateway to smoking."

The Tobacco Institute, which represents all of the major cigarette companies, argued that the purported safer products that the anti-smoking groups are calling for would not benefit the public's health because they contain nicotine and "are as addictive as regular cigarettes."
The lead scientist in Philip Morris' research division told the AP that: "Many consumers believe that the non-tobacco, non-combusted products we tested are "safe" tobacco products or are "safer" than cigarettes. We have not made such a determination and conclusive research is not available."

The lead counsel for R.J. Reynolds explained that his company would be "delighted" to produce a safer substitute for cigarettes once the FDA determines that such a product is 'safe and effective.' But until then, allowing such a product to be marketed would be like "the wild, wild west."


Correction: Due to technical problems with our lithograph, the Associated Press regrets that it printed the wrong date in the above story. The date should be April 28, 2016, not April 28, 1986.

Correction: We have been notified of another inadvertent error in the above story. In every place where the name of a tobacco company is mentioned, it should be replaced with the name of an anti-tobacco group or health agency or organization. And in every place where an anti-tobacco organization or researcher is mentioned, it should be replaced with a Big Tobacco company or tobacco company researcher. We apologize for the mistake and are sorry for any confusion or misinterpretation that it caused.

Correction: The non-combusted, non-tobacco product in question was not merely test marketed. It has actually been on the market for 10 years, is being used by more than 3 million people, and has been studied in more than 50 peer-reviewed articles, many of which documented dramatic health improvement in smokers who switched to these alternative products.

Addendum: Returning our phone call too late for the print edition, Professor Michael Siegel from the Boston University School of Public Health did add the following comment:

"It seems to me that the anti-tobacco groups have provided the tobacco companies with a nearly impenetrable defense in future litigation. A huge component of the legal argument being made by plaintiff's attorneys is that the tobacco companies had the technology, and experimented with the technology to produce a much safer cigarette, but failed to do so. 

Now, the companies have been provided with a new line of defense. They can simply bombard the court with abundant statements from anti-smoking groups and health officials and agencies which argue that there is no way the companies could have brought such a product to market, because - as the anti-smoking groups themselves note - it would have taken 10 years or longer to understand the potential long-term risks of such a product. Even if all the tobacco were removed and a heating process was substituted for combustion so that there was no smoke, it still would not have been harmless water vapor. Moreover, even if such a product were safer, it still could have harmed the public health by serving as a gateway to a lifetime of addiction to smoking. 

Nicotine itself is harmful and causes brain damage in adolescents. And even with a truly safer product, it would not benefit the public's health because there is no question that it would be a gateway to smoking.

The bare truth is that putting something in your mouth, a stick-like device, and inhaling is going to be risky. Thus, there would have been no definite public health advantage to creating a presumably safer product and by failing to pursue a safer cigarette, the companies therefore did not violate any public health duty of care."


Documentation of "Tobacco Company" Quotes

"We have not seen to this point evidence that contradicts the idea that putting something in your mouth, a stick-like device, and inhaling is not risky."
Source: Australian Medical Association

"E-cigarette emissions are not merely harmless water vapor."
Source: University of California, San Francisco

"Not Harmless Water Vapor"
Source: Vermont Department of Health

"These products do not just emit harmless water vapor."
Source: Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights

"extreme enthusiasm ... They're quite blind to some of the concerns that people in other countries are expressing. They've only been around since about [2007] and that's a very, very short period by which to determine whether they are as safe as everybody hopes they will be."
Source: Professor Simon Chapman

"There's no question that they are a gateway to smoking [tobacco] cigarettes."
Source: Professor Stan Glantz

"They are just as addictive as regular cigarettes."
Source: California Department of Health Services

"Many kids are starting out with [e-cigarettes] and then going on to smoke conventional cigarettes. [E-cigarettes] are condemning many kids to struggling with a lifelong addiction to nicotine."
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

"Many consumers believe that [e-cigarettes] are "safe" tobacco products or are "safer" than cigarettes. FDA has not made such a determination and conclusive research is not available."
Source: Food and Drug Administration 

"Safe and effective"
Source: American Lung Association 

"Wild, wild west" 
Source: American Cancer Society 

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