Monday, July 06, 2009

Public Health Physicians Group Blasts FDA Tobacco Legislation; Cites Philip Morris' Role, Lack of Science Knowledge on the Part of Tobacco-Free Kids

The Democracy Now web site features an interview with Dr. Joel Nitzkin, head of the tobacco control task force of the American Association of Public Health Physicians. Dr. Nitzkin blasts the FDA tobacco legislation, arguing that it was crafted by Philip Morris as part of a deal between the tobacco company and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Dr. Nitzkin's primary argument is that the legislation is essentially a political scam in that it allows the health groups to claim victory over Big Tobacco but that it actually contains very little of substance to fight Big Tobacco. Dr. Nitzkin states that the bill "provides the appearance of the federal regulation of tobacco products while assuring the Philip Morris company of the ability to continue to market their current and currently proposed cigarette products with little interference from federal authorities, protection against future liability and protection from competition from other tobacco companies and from smokeless tobacco products."

Dr. Nitzkin is very clear in asserting that the bill was crafted by Philip Morris and that it was the result of Congressionally-mediated negotiations between the nation's largest tobacco company and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Nitzkin also argues that while Philip Morris had its act together and knew exactly what it was doing, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids had no idea of the science behind tobacco control. He states: "The bill was negotiated between Philip Morris and Tobacco-Free Kids, and it appears from the actual text of the bill that the Philip Morris people did their homework very well and knew exactly what they wanted, while those appointed from Tobacco-Free Kids to negotiate on behalf of the public health community really had no understanding of tobacco-related science, of how and why kids initiate tobacco use, or the steps that could be taken to stop them. So it resulted in a bill that gives the appearance of effective regulation, but not the substance. And with the exception of the graphic warnings, which were added in the Senate, not in the original House bill, every provision having to do with restriction of marketing of tobacco products falls into one of two categories: either it’s already in place as a result of the Master Settlement Agreement, or it has already been thrown out by the US Supreme Court."

As an example of a compromise that was inserted to appease the interests of Philip Morris and which represents a provision which is all propaganda and no substance, Dr. Nitzkin discusses the menthol exemption: "The one additive that really makes a difference is menthol, which is both a flavoring and a local anesthetic. And the purpose of menthol was to make cigarette smoking accessible to people who otherwise could not tolerate the harsh feel and taste of the smoke. About 80 percent of African American smokers smoke menthol cigarettes, as do a large number of non-African American smokers. But menthol was specifically included as allowable in the FDA legislation, because Philip Morris objected, saying if you eliminated menthol, that would eliminate 28 percent of our sales."

Dr. Nitzkin goes on to point out the two-fold flaw of the bill's reduced risk provisions. On the one hand, the bill makes it impossible for truly safer products to be marketed successfully. On the other hand, the bill contains a loophole which allows companies to market products as reduced exposure products - which the public will assume implies a degree of safety - without any proof that the product is actually safer. As Dr. Nitzkin explains this loophole: "if a cigarette company wants to market its cigarette as lower exposure, all they have to do is change the chemical composition by that small amount, and then they can advertise it as lower exposure without any scientific proof that it’s safer or less risky."

Finally, Dr. Nitzkin attacks the most central tenet of the legislation: that cigarettes can be made safer by reducing the levels of - or eliminating - some of the specific chemicals in tobacco smoke: "The thrust of the bill is to make cigarette smoke—cigarettes safer by deleting certain hazardous chemicals in them. But there’s already good—pretty good research out there that shows if you eliminated all of the forty most prominent carcinogens in cigarette smoke, you would only reduce the risk of cancer by one or two percent. It’s become abundantly clear over the years that the problem is products of combustion, saying if you dried, shredded and rolled up cabbage or broccoli or even carrots, and people smoked as much of that stuff as they did cigarettes and inhaled it as deeply into their lungs at that very hot temperature, they would get the same risk of heart disease, cancer and other diseases. So this business of making cigarette smoke safer by changing the ingredients has got no scientific basis whatever, and it’s another giveaway to Philip Morris."

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