Thursday, March 17, 2005

Philip Morris and Health Groups Applaud Re-Introduction of FDA Tobacco Legislation

The nation's largest tobacco company and four prominent health groups today joined together to support legislation that would give the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products. In statements issued today, Philip Morris USA (web site) and a coalition of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association (press release) expressed support for bills introduced today concurrently in the Senate and the House. The Altria web site provided a link to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids press release, emphasizing the nexus between the tobacco manufacturer and some members of the public health community on this issue. Philip Morris also noted that it has "worked diligently with the public health community" in reaching this "policy solution."

Among the bill's provisions cited by both Philip Morris and the coalition of health groups as benefiting the public's health are strengthened cigarette warning labels, full ingredient disclosure, authority for FDA to eliminate terms like "light" and "low-tar," authority for FDA to require removal of certain harmful tobacco smoke components, a ban on candy and fruit flavored cigarettes, and authority for FDA to help prevent the sale of tobacco to minors.

The Rest of the Story

Based on a detailed analysis of the specific provisions of the legislation, it is clear that it fails to protect the public’s health in any substantial way, and that in fact, it would be detrimental to the public’s health in a number of ways:
  • The way in which the bill frames the problem of tobacco use in our society is inconsistent with the public health paradigm. The bill stringently regulates new products and reduced risk products, but essentially allows existing, high-risk products to continue killing hundreds of thousands of Americans each year.
  • The bill completely ties the hands of FDA in terms of complying with the very legislation that sets requirements for its action. The loopholes in the legislation are huge, and not only benefit the tobacco industry, but institutionalize tobacco and addiction to tobacco products in our society. The fatal flaw of the legislation is the unacceptable degree of restriction of FDA’s potential actions which makes it impossible for FDA to act appropriately within the legislative mandate it is given.
  • Tobacco companies will benefit from this bill because they will be able to use the fact of being regulated by FDA to achieve improved public opinion by taking advantage of the public perception that the tobacco problem is basically taken care of. The public’s perceived level of the health risk posed by ordinary tobacco products will decline as the public perceives the fact of FDA regulation as automatically meaning that the product must be reasonably safe, or at least safer. The bill will likely result in increased deaths compared to no legislation at all, as the bill will:
    • make it virtually impossible to research, develop, introduce, and market new potentially less hazardous tobacco products;
    • undermine current and future litigation and the public health remedies that are likely to result from such litigation, as tobacco companies will be able to successfully use the argument that they are already thoroughly regulated; and
    • reduce the public's perception of the inherent harms of cigarettes.
  • Additionally, there are no documented mechanisms by which the legislation will save lives:
    • Research has documented that the kinds of marketing restrictions imposed by the bill are not effective in reducing youth smoking, or even in reducing youth exposure to cigarette advertising. The more stringent of the advertising restrictions will certainly be challenged in court, and may be found to violate the First Amendment.
    • Performance standards and disclosure requirements of the bill will not improve the public’s health. It is simply not known which specific carcinogens of the 40+ carcinogens in tobacco smoke and which specific toxins of the 4000+ chemicals in tobacco smoke are responsible for what diseases, what quantities of these chemicals produce what effect, and what the effect of removing these chemicals will be.
    • The Modified Risk Product section of the bill would make it virtually impossible for modified risk products to enter the market, while at the same time, allowing reduced exposure products to essentially be falsely marketed as reduced risk products. In effect, it protects the existing high-risk products on the market and precludes any harm reduction approach to tobacco control.
The basic approach taken by the legislation is quite absurd from a public health perspective:
  • The measure would stringently regulate new and potentially less hazardous tobacco products while doing little to prevent the most harmful form of tobacco – existing cigarettes – from continuing to cause the deaths of nearly half a million Americans each year.
  • Although the bill would enable the FDA to prevent the introduction of new cigarette brands that falsely claim to reduce the risk of disease, it would permit Marlboro and the other most popular existing cigarette brands to continue business as usual.
  • The bill bans the use of strawberry, grape, chocolate, or similar flavoring additives in cigarettes but does not mandate the elimination (or even reduction) of toxic gases like hydrogen cyanide or the more than 40 known cancer-causing constituents of cigarette smoke such as benz(a)pyrene, benzene, and radioactive polonium.
Philip Morris now stands shoulder to shoulder with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and the American Lung Association in lobbying for passage of this legislation. Even if a detailed analysis of the bill did not reveal the reasons why Philip Morris supports the legislation, one would have to question the judgment of the health groups in helping the leading tobacco company achieve the federal policy result it most desires.

If this bill passes, it will be devastating for the tobacco control movement as well as for the public's health.

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