Aug. 20 2002
Washington, DC — In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission dated August 12, 2002, the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company (USSTC) has withdrawn its request that the FTC issue an advisory opinion that would allow smokeless tobacco products to be advertised as less hazardous than cigarettes. The USSTC petition was a bad idea from the beginning and should not be resurrected. This petition was always about increasing the numbers of people who use smokeless tobacco rather than reducing the harm caused by tobacco.
USSTC's withdrawal of its request comes in the wake of strong opposition from public health organizations and several members of Congress and follows the release of new evidence regarding USSTC's irresponsible marketing practices and the harm caused by smokeless tobacco use. We think it is significant that when USSTC made its request in February, the company announced its intentions to the press with great fanfare. In marked contrast, USSTC's withdrawal letter comes with no formal announcement. It is unlikely that USSTC would have withdrawn its request if the company thought it would be granted.
Thirty-nine public health organizations, including the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, wrote the FTC earlier this year to urge that it deny USSTC's request. Our letter argued that the FTC lacks the appropriate scientific authority or public health mandate to evaluate the health effects of smokeless tobacco products and that the appropriate agency to do so is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In addition, our letter pointed out that USSTC continues to deny that smokeless tobacco use causes any human disease despite the overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary and argued that the company's history of irresponsible marketing indicates it could use the ability to make the requested health claims in ways that would harm the public health. The FTC in June was also presented with evidence from new studies showing that the USSTC continued to advertise in youth-oriented magazines after promising to stop doing so as part of a 1998 legal settlement with the states and that smokeless tobacco acts as a "gateway drug" to cigarette smoking. It would have been irresponsible of the FTC to grant USSTC's request in light of this powerful evidence of the risks posed by the company's products and practices.
If USSTC were truly serious about having its products evaluated for possible reduced risk, it would join the public health community in urging Congress to pass legislation to grant the FDA effective authority over the manufacturing, marketing and sales of tobacco products, as embodied in the bill recently introduced by Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Mike DeWine (R-OH). So far, USSTC has failed to do so. Instead the company continues to engage in a pattern of corporate behavior that engenders cynicism and perpetuates the suspicion that USSTC cares only about its bottom line.