Apr. 11 2001
Washington, DC — With great fanfare, Philip Morris has introduced its proposal to give the Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco. Despite the rhetoric, Philip Morris' proposal would not lead to meaningful change or promote the public health. It is a cynical proposal designed to make it sound like Philip Morris favors strong regulation, but in reality, it would not require any change in current tobacco marketing practices or permit the FDA to require tobacco companies to reduce the harm their products cause. In short, it will lead to business as usual. We oppose this proposal because it would mean that more than 400,000 Americans will continue to die of tobacco-caused disease every year and more than 3,000 kids will continue to become regular smokers every day.
The public health community is united in support of real FDA regulation of tobacco that would allow the FDA to prohibit tobacco marketing that appeals to kids, prohibit deceptive health claims such as "light", and require that tobacco companies remove known harmful constituents when they have the know-how to do so. The Philip Morris proposal would accomplish none of these modest goals.
In fact, Philip Morris' primary goal is to gain the government's stamp of approval for the so-called "reduced risk" products that it plans to market with the goal of getting more people to start smoking and discouraging current smokers from quitting. This is a recipe for more addiction, disease and death, not less.
Philip Morris' proposal is a major retreat from the form of FDA regulation to which it agreed during tobacco settlement negotiations with the state attorneys general in 1997. It is another in a long line of tobacco industry efforts to head off meaningful legislative action with empty public relations gestures aimed at preserving the status quo and protecting the industry's bottom line.
The Philip Morris proposal falls especially short in several critical areas:
Elimination or reduction of harmful ingredients: One of the most important aspects of FDA tobacco regulation is the authority to require changes in tobacco products in order to reduce the death and disease they cause. While there is no such thing as a safe cigarette, there are many ways in which the harm could be reduced. But the Philip Morris proposal would not allow the FDA to require meaningful changes in tobacco products even if the technology exists to do so easily and instead establishes cigarettes currently on the market as the gold standard against which all future products will be judged.
The Philip Morris proposal would allow the FDA to prohibit the addition or removal of an ingredient added during the manufacturing process only if the ingredient would render the products even more dangerous than current products; in effect, the FDA could act only if the ingredient would result in even more deaths. More important, Philip Morris would not allow the FDA to require the removal of the dozens of known cancer-causing constituents that naturally occur in tobacco products or during the burning process even when they have the technology to do so. For example, tobacco companies already have the technology to reduce nitrosamines, one of the more deadly of the more than 40 identified carcinogens in cigarettes, but the Philip Morris proposal would not allow the FDA to require tobacco companies to remove nitrosamines.
Prohibiting marketing that impacts and appeals to kids: Philip Morris' proposal would not give the FDA authority to restrict advertising and marketing that appeals to children beyond what they are already required to do by provisions of the 1998 state tobacco settlement, which are limited and inadequate. A recent Federal Trade Commission report showed that tobacco marketing expenditures increased by the largest amount ever in the first year after the settlement, reaching a record $8.24 billion a year – $22 million a day and nearly $1 million an hour. Much of this increase was in ways effective at reaching kids, such as two-for-one discounts that reduce cigarette prices and payments for high visibility store shelf displays. Other studies have found increased tobacco advertising in youth-oriented magazines and retail stores since the settlement.
The FDA needs broad authority to restrict marketing that influences kids, based on the evidence and not on the industry's false promises that it does not market to kids. The Philip Morris proposal falls woefully short.
Regulating dangerous and misleading health claims: The tobacco companies have repeatedly made claims of "reduced risk" that later proved to be unfounded, deceptive and, in far too many cases, lethal. One of the prime examples is the introduction in the 1960s of "light" cigarettes that boasted lower levels of tar in cigarette smoke with claims of less risk to smokers. In fact, the introduction of lights did not improve the public health because it led many smokers not to quit and smokers of lights tend to compensate by smoking more, inhaling more deeply or blocking ventilation holes. Industry documents show that the tobacco companies knew that federal standards for measuring tar in cigarettes were inadequate and misleading, but still used these standards to market "light" cigarettes with the implication that smoking them was less hazardous.
The Philip Morris proposal would prohibit the FDA from banning the use of terms such as "light" and "ultra light." Philip Morris also calls for the FDA to regulate so-called "reduced risk" products in a way that would amount to a government stamp of approval allowing the tobacco companies to better market these products. The public health community supports giving the FDA the authority to prohibit such claims if needed to protect the public health.
Philip Morris is honest on one count in stating that its proposal "will be good for our tobacco business." But Philip Morris' woefully inadequate version of FDA tobacco regulation would do nothing to protect the public health and serve only to lock in the deadly status quo.