May. 4 2005
Washington, DC — A new report being issued today by a tobacco research center at the University of Minnesota underscores the urgent need for Congress to pass legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) effective authority over tobacco products, including authority to regulate claims about so-called "reduced risk" or "reduced exposure" tobacco products. The report – the most comprehensive review to date of the science regarding these new products – reaches two key conclusions. First, it finds that there is no evidence to conclude that any of these new tobacco products actually reduce the risk of disease to consumers. Second, the report makes clear that, without effective government regulation of tobacco products and how they are marketed, "there is no way to be certain that any claims being made are accurate and that consumers are not being misled."
This report is timely and important because the tobacco industry in recent years has introduced a growing number of products with health claims such as "all of the taste…less of the toxins" (Brown & Williamson's Advance cigarettes); "reduced carcinogens, premium taste" (Vector's Omni cigarettes); and "less risk of cancer" (R.J. Reynolds' Eclipse). In an ominous development, Philip Morris recently began test-marketing a new cigarette, Marlboro UltraSmooth, that marries the name of its best-selling Marlboro brand to a claim of a "new carbon filter" that is likely to mislead consumers into believing this is a safer cigarette despite Philip Morris' own admission it lacks evidence this product is safer. The tobacco industry gets away with such claims and other harmful practices because its products are virtually unregulated to protect consumers' health and safety, despite the fact they kill more than 400,000 people in the U.S. every year.
It's time for Congress to end this special protection for the tobacco industry by enacting the bipartisan pending legislation to grant the FDA authority over tobacco products [S. 666 introduced by U.S. Sens. Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and H.R. 1376 introduced by Reps. Tom Davis (R-VA) and Henry Waxman (D-CA)]. Among other things, this legislation would prohibit any health claims about tobacco products unless the FDA determines both that these claims are scientifically substantiated and that they would not discourage current tobacco users from quitting or encourage new users to start. To ensure the FDA can do its job effectively, the legislation would require detailed disclosure to the FDA of the contents of tobacco products and any health research about them. The FDA would also gain the authority to crack down on tobacco marketing and sales to kids, require changes in tobacco products to make them less harmful and less addictive, and mandate larger, more effective health warnings.
Until Congress grants the FDA authority over tobacco products, the tobacco industry's latest products risk a repeat of the public health disaster caused by the marketing of "light" and "low-tar" cigarettes. Many smokers switched to "lights" believing they were less risky or would help them quit, only to find out too late that neither was the case and that the tobacco companies knew this all along. How many times must we be fooled by the tobacco industry before Congress finally takes action to address the nation's leading preventable cause of death?
The new report, "Hope or Hazard: What Research Tells Us About Potentially Reduced-Exposure Tobacco Products," can be found at www.tturc.umn.edu/documents/hope_or_hazard-3.pdf.