Aug. 21 2001
Washington, DC — A new study of oral snuff tobacco products released today by the Massachusetts Department of Health graphically demonstrates how the health of American consumers is jeopardized because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not have authority over tobacco products.
The Massachusetts study reaches two important conclusions. First, snuff tobacco manufactured and sold in the United States contains several times the level of cancer-causing nitrosamines as a snuff brand made and sold in Sweden by Swedish Match. Second, the study found that levels of nitrosamines in the U.S. snuff increase as it ages, but the cancer-causing nitrosamines do not increase with age in the Swedish product. Consumers should be warned to check freshness dates on snuff packages and be made aware that these products become more poisonous over time. Unfortunately, no package warning system currently exists because there is no federal law requiring such warnings.
The Massachusetts study demonstrates that the technology exists to greatly reduce levels of one of the most dangerous carcinogens in snuff tobacco, but that America's largest smokeless manufacturers continue to sell brands – like Copenhagen©, Skoal™ and Silver Creek™ - that exceed the levels in comparable products sold in Sweden by more than ten times. Unlike other products on the market, no federal agency including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has the authority to require tobacco companies to remove or reduce life-threatening poisons like nitrosamines or to require the disclosure of ingredients so that users of tobacco products know the risks they face.
There is no excuse that U.S. Smokeless Tobacco knows how to reduce harmful carcinogens in its snuff tobacco but has not chosen to do so in its most popular brands.
As a result of this study, the Massachusetts Department of Health has asked all manufacturers of snuff sold in the state to reduce the levels of nitrosamines. If they fail to do so voluntarily, the Massachusetts Department of Health has indicated it will amend its hazardous substance regulations to require them to do so.
We commend Massachusetts. The only reason Americans are being exposed to higher levels of nitrosamines than their Swedish counterparts is that no federal agency has the power to require tobacco companies to disclose this information or take even the most reasonable steps to reduce these poisons. But the Massachusetts action is not a substitute for effective nation wide comprehensive regulation. Even if Massachusetts succeeds, its rule offers no protections for users of snuff outside the state. All Americans deserve such protection and only Congress can grant it by giving FDA effective authority over tobacco. Massachusetts is acting because Congress has abdicated its responsibility. Lives are being put in jeopardy because Congress has failed to act.
Americans will continue to face far greater risks from tobacco products than Europeans until Congress finally passes strong FDA legislation, such as the bills being offered in the House by Representatives Ganske, Dingell and Waxman and in the Senate by Senators Harkin, Chafee, and Graham, and not the loophole ridden bills supported by big tobacco. Only effective FDA regulation can compel companies like U.S. Smokeless Tobacco to reduce harmful ingredients in their products and stop threatening the lives of America's kids and families.