Jun. 27 2002
Washington, DC — The claim made today by Vector Tobacco Ltd. that its Omni cigarettes caused fewer cancers in laboratory rats than Marlboros underscores the urgent need for Congress to pass legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration effective authority over tobacco products, including health claims made about them. While tobacco companies should reduce known carcinogens and other toxins in their products, it is irresponsible for them to make claims that these products are safer until an independent government agency, the FDA, has the authority to verify and regulate such claims. Until Congress grants the FDA this authority, customers of Omni and other so-called “reduced risk” tobacco products are human guinea pigs in the tobacco industry’s deadly science experiment.
Vector’s claims about Omni should be viewed in the context of the tobacco industry’s long history of deception about the harm caused by its products, including the industry’s manipulation of science to raise doubts about how addictive and deadly tobacco use really is. We’ve seen previous tobacco industry efforts to mislead us with the results of their so-called “scientific testing”, only to learn later that they either did the wrong test or did not release all the results. Given its history and the harm caused by its products, which kill more than 400,000 Americans every year, the tobacco industry should not be deciding which studies to conduct about its products, how to conduct them, and what information to make available to the government and the public.
As a recent National Cancer Institute study on low-tar cigarettes showed, the tobacco industry purposely designed such cigarettes to appear less toxic in machine tests while knowing that they actually posed the same level of risk to smokers. History will repeat itself, and the toll of tobacco will not be reduced, unless Congress grants the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products and protect the public health.
Strong, bipartisan bills to grant the FDA effective authority over tobacco products have been introduced in both the House and the Senate. These are S. 2626 introduced by Senators Kennedy (D-MA) and DeWine (R-OH) and H.R. 1097 introduced by Reps. Ganske (R-IA), Dingell (D-MI) and Waxman (D-CA). Congress should act quickly to pass these bills, while rejecting the ineffective FDA bills being advocated by Philip Morris. We also urge the FDA to assert its authority under current law over Omni because of the health claims Vector is making for this product. Finally, if Vector and other tobacco companies are serious about reducing the harm caused by tobacco use, they should join the fight for meaningful FDA authority and cease to make any health claims about their products until the FDA has authority over them.