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Public Health Groups Call on Philip Morris to Support Meaningful FDA Regulation of Tobacco

Groups Challenge Tobacco Giant to Match Rhetoric with Action
March 02, 2000

Washington, DC - Five leading public health organizations today called on tobacco giant Philip Morris to back up its rhetoric with action by supporting meaningful U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation of tobacco. Earlier this week Philip Morris publicly announced it would support some measure of federal regulation of tobacco products, but did not provide specifics. During a press conference at the National Press Club, the five public health groups – the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids – challenged Philip Morris to support FDA oversight as embodied in the FDA provisions of the 1998 tobacco control legislation considered by the Senate. “We would welcome it if Philip Morris and the other tobacco companies would accept meaningful regulation of tobacco that protects the public health and reduces the death and disease caused by the use of tobacco products,” said Francis L. Coolidge, Immediate Past Chairman of the American Cancer Society. “However, until we see the details, a healthy skepticism is in order given Philip Morris’ long history of empty public relations gestures. In fact, we are deeply disappointed at Philip Morris’ failure today to provide enough details for the American people to judge if this is just another smokescreen.” The five public health groups challenged Philip Morris to immediately take three specific actions to show it is now serious: End its opposition to the FDA’s assertion of jurisdiction over tobacco, regardless of the outcome of the pending Supreme Court case. Support the FDA provisions of the Senate’s 1998 tobacco control legislation. These provisions were drafted by Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) and were supported by a bipartisan majority of at least 57 senators who voted to continue debate on the bill. End its marketing and sales practices that impact kids, including advertising in magazines with high youth readership and with images such as the Marlboro Man that appeal to youth. “Philip Morris should be judged by its actions, not its rhetoric,” said Dr. Mohammad Akhter, Executive Director, American Public Health Association. “They owe the public straightforward and honest statements that will – in real terms – move use closer to the protection of public health.” The five public health groups also outlined the components of meaningful FDA regulation over tobacco products as embodied in the 1998 Senate bill. These include: Authority to reduce and/or eliminate harmful components of tobacco products. Authority over youth access to tobacco products and tobacco advertising and marketing. Disclosure to the FDA of all tobacco industry information regarding the health effects of tobacco products. Authority to regulate the use of harmful ingredients and require the tobacco industry to provide the FDA with a complete list of all tobacco ingredients and additives by brand. Authority over health warnings on tobacco product packages and advertising, including size, location and color. Authority to prohibit or restrict unsubstantiated health claims about tobacco products and health claims that discourage people from quitting or encourage them to start. Authority to encourage and oversee the development of products that reduce the health risk to consumers and that serve as less harmful alternatives. “The critical question is, what does Philip Morris mean by regulation,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Will it consent to the same kind of regulatory authority that the Food and Drug Administration has over other drugs and foods, including the power to require that harmful ingredients like nicotine be reduced or eliminated in order to save lives? The real test of regulation or legislation will be whether it protects the health of the public, not the profits of Philip Morris.” Finally, the public health groups detailed Philip Morris’ long history of making grand gestures when faced with political or legal challenges, as they do now, then failing to follow through with action. This strategy continues today: Philip Morris generated publicity by acknowledging on its web site that cigarette smoking is addictive and causes lung cancer, heart disease, and other serious illnesses. Yet a psychiatrist hired by Philip Morris and other tobacco companies recently testified in the pending Florida class action lawsuit that two smokers in that case were not addicted to tobacco. Philip Morris claims to support youth tobacco prevention programs. Yet it recently brought its corporate muscle to bear in censoring the tough anti-smoking advertising developed by the American Legacy Foundation. Philip Morris claims in its recently launched newspaper advertising campaign that its goal is to “responsibly market our products to adults who choose to smoke.” Yet it continues to advertise in publications such as People, TV Guide, Sports Illustrated, and Rolling Stone that have youth readership totaling more than two million or more than 15 percent of overall readership. These are the very same publications in which Philip Morris agreed to restrict its advertising as part of the 1997 tobacco settlement. “Philip Morris has a long history of talking the talk, but not walking the walk,” said M. Cass Wheeler, CEO of the American Heart Association. “Therefore, it must bear the burden of proof to show it has truly changed and is now willing to accept meaningful government regulation of its tobacco products. We can only conclude that this is yet another public relations ploy aimed at avoiding the real change needed to reduce the deadly toll of tobacco in our country.” Dr. Randolph Smoak, Jr., President-elect of the American Medical Association, closed the press conference by calling on Congress and the President to judge Philip Morris by actions rather than words and to support the FDA provisions of the 1998 Senate legislation. “We believe that the FDA provisions of the 1998 Senate bill represent the minimum standard for meaningful regulation of tobacco products,” Smoak said. “While we are confident that the FDA already has the authority to regulate tobacco, we urge the Congress to support this legislation should the Supreme Court rule otherwise. We are heartened by the President’s statement of support this week for the 1998 legislation, and we urge him to veto any bill that falls short.”