Feb. 22 2001
Washington, DC — As tobacco companies race to develop and market what they call "reduced risk" products, a new report released today by the Institute of Medicine underscores the urgent need for Congress to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration effective authority to regulate the manufacture, marketing and sale of tobacco products.
The report by a committee of scientific experts convened by the IOM, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, makes two critical findings. First, none of the so-called "reduced risk" products now on the market have been proven to be less hazardous and may in fact increase the incidence of tobacco-related disease by deterring current smokers from quitting or encouraging new smokers to start. Second, tobacco products need to be regulated like other consumable products to protect the public health.
Big Tobacco has deceived the American public for 50 years about the health risks posed by its products, resulting in a public health epidemic that kills more than 400,000 Americans every year. This report makes it clear that, absent effective federal regulation of tobacco, the tobacco industry's introduction of allegedly "reduced risk" products leaves Americans unprotected from new deceptions that would cost even more lives.
The tobacco industry has repeatedly made claims of reduced risk that later proved to be unfounded, deceptive and, in far too many cases, lethal. "Light" cigarettes that boasted lower levels of tar in cigarette smoke were introduced in the 1960's with claims of less risk to smokers. In fact, because smokers of lights tend to compensate by smoking more, inhaling more deeply or blocking ventilation holes, the incidence of disease among smokers rose after "lights" were introduced. Also, inadequate federal standards for measuring tar in cigarette smoke were misused by the tobacco industry to market "light" cigarettes with the implication that smoking them was somehow less hazardous. In far too many cases, the results were fatal.
A more current example is R.J. Reynolds' Eclipse cigarette, which the company claims "may present smokers with less risk of cancer." A study released last year by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health found that Eclipse actually exposes smokers to the same or increased levels of major carcinogens when compared to other "ultralight" cigarettes.
Other tobacco companies, including Philip Morris, Vector Group Ltd. (parent company of Liggett Group), Brown & Williamson and Star Scientific, are also developing or already selling allegedly "reduced risk" products.
The IOM report sounds a loud and clear warning that, without effective federal regulation of tobacco, these products could increase rather than reduce risk and the public should beware of industry claims. The report states, "The public health impact of (potential reduced-risk products) is unknown. They are potentially beneficial, but the net impact on population health could, in fact, be negative."
Congress should respond to this report by quickly enacting legislation granting the FDA effective authority to regulate tobacco. The FDA should have full authority to restrict marketing and sales to children, to require that tobacco companies reduce or eliminate harmful components found in tobacco products and smoke when technologically possible, to require independent scientific testing of products and health claims, and to prohibit or restrict unsubstantiated health claims or health claims that discourage people from quitting or encourage them to start using tobacco.
Some tobacco companies now claim that they, too, support federal regulation of tobacco, including health claims. But the tobacco industry's version of regulation is fundamentally different from that supported by the public health community and is aimed at protecting the industry's profits, not the public health. The public health community's goal is effective regulation that would reduce the number of people who become addicted to and then are sickened and killed by tobacco. The tobacco industry sees "regulation" as a marketing opportunity to deter current smokers from quitting and hook new smokers with its allegedly safer products, this time with a government seal of approval. The industry's history tells us that the tobacco companies' bottom line is to sell more cigarettes and make more money, and they cannot be trusted to support measures that will truly protect the public health.
The IOM report should spur Congress to grant the FDA authority over tobacco and deny the industry the lethal carte blanche it seeks to continue to addict and endanger the lives of yet another generation of smokers.