Monday, July 24, 2006

Op-Ed Outlines Loopholes in FDA Tobacco Legislation and Concludes that Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is Giving Philip Morris Special Protection

An op-ed column by Michael Siegel (Rest of the Story author) and Dr. Alan Blum (Professor and Director of the University of Alabama Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society) published Sunday in the Birmingham News suggests that by supporting the proposed FDA tobacco legislation, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other public health and anti-smoking groups are actually promoting special protections for the tobacco companies at the expense of protection of the public's health.

The main point made in the op-ed is that special provisions inserted into the bill, presumably in order to gain the support of Philip Morris, have the effect of ensuring that the most important decisions about the regulation of tobacco products are placed into the arena of politics, and not science.

For example, the bill includes a provision that gives Congress veto power over any significant proposed FDA tobacco regulations. This allows the tobacco companies to use their powerful influence in Congress to block, on purely political grounds, any science-based regulations that they do not like.

While the legislation is advertised by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids as creating meaningful and effective regulation of tobacco products, the bill also precludes FDA from eliminating nicotine - recognized as the addictive component of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco - from these products. The bill places this important decision into the political, rather than the scientific arena.

Moreover, the legislation specifically authorizes, for the first time, the use of "reduced exposure" language for cigarettes and other tobacco products. This would open the doors to Philip Morris finally putting on the market its reduced exposure cigarette that it has already test-marketed. The only thing preventing this now is the threat of litigation if consumers claim that they were misled by this marketing (since it is completely unknown whether reduced exposure products actually reduce health risks). Unfortunately, the FDA legislation would grant the industry special protection by essentially immunizing them from consumer claims related to these reduced exposure products.

It is important to recognize that tobacco would become the only product regulated by FDA for which a special system of corporate protection is built into the regulatory system to protect industry profits. Thus, rather than end special protections for the industry, as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids claims, the legislation would institutionalize special protections for the industry for the foreseeable future.

For these reasons, the op-ed calls the FDA legislation a "dream come true" for Philip Morris.

Siegel and Blum conclude: "this is the ultimate reason why Philip Morris is so anxious to get Congress to pass this legislation. By freezing the current cigarette market, which the company dominates, and stifling competition, the legislation would give the leading tobacco company a virtual monopoly. Add to that the ability to market so-called 'reduced exposure' products without the threat of litigation for any false claims, along with the ability to appeal to Congress any time it doesn't like a regulation that the FDA proposes, and the result is a bill that's a dream come true for Philip Morris. The company can claim that it is supporting a strong public health measure but in reality it would retain special protection, ensuring that politics and profit, not science, will continue to be the final arbiter of the single most preventable cause of death and disease in our society."

The Rest of the Story

Perhaps the key point that Dr. Blum and I make is that if you actually read the legislation (rather than just accept the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' propaganda regarding the bill), you will find out that "the bill defers to politicians, not medical and public health authorities, as the ultimate decision-makers for reducing the harm from tobacco."

This is an unacceptable concession to Philip Morris and serves to provide Big Tobacco with special protections, not enjoyed by manufacturers of any other products regulated by FDA, that protect corporate profits at the expense of protecting the public's health.

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