Jun. 3 2003
Washington, D.C. — Today, two U.S. House of Representatives committees – the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Committee on Government Reform – are holding hearings on tobacco industry efforts to market new and existing products as posing "reduced risk" to consumers without meaningful government oversight of these products and claims. The U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company (USSTC) wants the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to allow it to market smokeless tobacco products as less hazardous than cigarettes, while Philip Morris wants a government stamp of approval for its cigarette health claims in the form of ineffective Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation of tobacco products. Other tobacco companies are already marketing cigarette products with claims they are less hazardous. It is imperative that Congress remember the tobacco industry's long and continuing history of deception regarding the harm caused by its products and reject these harmful tobacco industry efforts. Instead, Congress should enact real FDA regulation of tobacco products, including the authority to verify and regulate any health claims made about them, in order to reduce the death and disease caused by tobacco products.
Absent meaningful FDA authority over tobacco products, "reduced risk" health claims become a new marketing tool for the tobacco industry to hook new customers, rather than a public health tool to reduce the death and disease caused by tobacco use. The result would most likely be to increase the number of kids who start using these products and reduce the number of current smokers and smokeless tobacco users who would otherwise quit entirely.
History warns us that we cannot trust the tobacco industry or its claims about "reduced risk" products. Thirty years ago, the cigarette companies introduced "light" and "low-tar" cigarettes with clearly implied claims that they are less hazardous than regular cigarettes. But a November 2001 report by the National Cancer Institute found that light cigarettes are just as harmful and that the tobacco companies knew this all along. In fact, a judge in a recent Illinois court case found that two Philip Morris light brands are actually more dangerous than their regular counterparts because of changes in the chemistry of the smoke, and that Philip Morris knew this.
The tobacco industry's deception continues today. Even while seeking to make health claims about smokeless tobacco products, USSTC last year told the FTC that "smokeless tobacco has not been shown to be the cause of any human disease." This statement is contrary to the conclusions of the Surgeon General, the National Cancer Institute and numerous other scientific bodies that smokeless tobacco products increase the risk of serious disease, including oral cancer. In fact, 28 cancer-causing chemicals have been found in smokeless tobacco products. In addition, USSTC continues to market its products in ways effective at reaching children, increasing its advertising in youth-oriented magazines by 161 percent from 1997 to 2001 and using cartoonish images and slogans such as "Cock-a-doodle freakin' do." Allowing USSTC to make health claims regarding smokeless tobacco products would amount to a dangerous reversal of a longstanding federal policy of discouraging smokeless tobacco use to protect the public health. It would be extremely harmful to public health for Congress to buy USSTC's argument that the way to reduce tobacco-caused cancer is by promoting a cancer-causing tobacco product.
USSTC is not the only tobacco company making or seeking to make irresponsible health claims about deadly tobacco products. Brown & Williamson is marketing Advance cigarettes with the slogan "All of the taste…less of the toxins," while Vector Tobacco's ads for its Omni cigarettes proclaim "Reduced Carcinogens. Premium Taste." RJ Reynolds is launching a national ad campaign for its Eclipse product that, among other things, claims it "may present less risk of certain smoking-related diseases." Philip Morris has announced that it plans to launch a new "reduced risk" product later this year.
Unfortunately, no government agency today has the authority to determine whether these products are actually less hazardous or to ensure that they are responsibly marketed to reduce the overall harm caused by tobacco products. Consumers deciding whether to use so-called "reduced risk" products should be fully protected and informed by a scientifically qualified government agency, the FDA, rather than an industry with a long history of deception. Until Congress grants the FDA real authority over tobacco products, customers relying on cigarette industry claims are essentially human guinea pigs in a deadly science experiment.
Testimony: Matthew L. Myers, before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce
Public Health Letter to U.S. House of Representatives (6.2.03)