Monday, April 04, 2011

Op-Ed Blasts TPSAC For Weak-Willed Failure to Make Menthol Cigarette Recommendation

An op-ed by Dr. Alan Blum, Director of the Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society at the University of Alabama, published yesterday in the Birmingham News, sharply criticizes the FDA's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) for its failure to make a recommendation regarding FDA action on menthol cigarettes. Instead of making such a recommendation, the Committee simply concluded that banning menthol cigarettes would benefit the public's health, but that there could also be black market consequences. The Committee thus gave no indication to the FDA of what policy action would be appropriate.

About the TPSAC's actions, Dr. Blum writes: "Unfortunately, the committee that produced this sobering report did not translate its conclusion into a recommendation that menthol be banned. Instead, the committee fretted about a potential black market for menthol cigarettes and the possible introduction of do-it-yourself menthol cigarette kits to circumvent such a ban. But this reasoning puts the cart before the horse. In the end, the committee proved weak-willed."...

"The horrific impact menthol cigarettes have had on the African-American community warrants that all health organizations and everyone concerned about the rising cost of health care urge the FDA and Congress to add menthol to the list of far less widely consumed but already banned candy flavorings."

Dr. Blum then notes that the menthol story simply illustrates the lack of effectiveness of the entire FDA tobacco regulatory scheme created by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Philip Morris in Congressionally-mediated negotiations. He concludes: "The committee's failure to recommend an unequivocal ban on menthol cigarettes reveals the toothlessness of the new law and the lack of effectiveness of the regulatory process by the FDA."

Dr. Blum also explains the folly of putting cigarette safety regulation in the hands of the FDA in the first place: "The public entrusts the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with ensuring the safety and effectiveness of medications that improve health -- not substances that cause disease. Yet, two years ago, President Barack Obama signed into law a misguided bill supported by the American Cancer Society, the American Medical Association and most other health organizations that placed the nation's most lethal consumer product -- cigarettes -- under the control of the FDA. Incredibly, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act directs the FDA to issue safety standards for a product that kills nearly half a million Americans a year. ...

"Small wonder, then, why Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro, the world's largest-selling cigarette, wholeheartedly supported the bill, even as the bill's proponents were claiming that it would be the death knell for Big Tobacco. The law only served to increase the skepticism of all too many smokers, who reason that if cigarettes were really so dangerous, then the government would ban them. Now Philip Morris can reassure its customers that it is complying with strict product-safety standards, in effect making and marketing government-approved cigarettes."

The Rest of the Story

Dr. Blum is one of the few in the tobacco control movement who has consistently argued that the very idea of the FDA tobacco legislation was flawed from the beginning. He is also one of the few who has publicly criticized the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Medical Association, and other health groups for supporting the secretly negotiated bill that was crafted behind closed doors by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Philip Morris.

Now, as Dr. Blum demonstrates, it is clear that the law lacks any teeth. It is a pure showpiece, allowing politicians, politically-motivated health groups, and Philip Morris make it appear to the public that they are doing something to protect the public's health, when the truth is that this law did and will do virtually nothing to reduce smoking and the now estimated to be a half million U.S. deaths per year that it causes.

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