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Public Health Groups Urge FTC to Deny UST Request to Advertise Smokeless Tobacco Products as Safer than Cigarettes

March 01, 2002

Washington, DC — Thirty-nine public health groups have written to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to urge that it deny a request by UST Inc., the nation's largest smokeless tobacco company, for an advisory opinion that would allow smokeless tobacco products to be advertised as less hazardous than cigarettes. Groups signing the letter include the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Dental Association and the Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids.

The letter from the public health groups also points out that UST continues to argue that 'smokeless tobacco has not been shown to be the cause of any human disease' despite the conclusions of Congress and numerous public health agencies that smokeless tobacco use causes oral cancer and other diseases. 'What (UST) is, in essence, requesting is that the Federal Trade Commission review, revise and overturn the scientific conclusions of the U.S. Surgeon General, the National Cancer Institute and every other major scientific and public health agency that has examined the health effects of smokeless tobacco,' the letter states.

The public health groups' letter urged the FTC to reject UST's request for several reasons:

  • The scientific judgments that UST is asking the FTC to make are more appropriately made by federal agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that are charged with protecting the public health and that possess the expertise for and experience with evaluating all of the evidence of the health effects of smokeless tobacco products. The letter points out that Congress vested authority in HHS for assessing and communicating the health risks associated with smokeless tobacco and that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is the most appropriate regulatory agency to address the public health issues raised by UST.

  • UST's history indicates that it could use the ability to make the requested health claims in ways that would harm the public health. The letter points out that smokeless tobacco use rose among young people after UST in the 1980s introduced new products and an aggressive marketing campaign, including statements stating or implying that smokeless tobacco products were safer than cigarettes. UST continues to advertise in venues effective at reaching youth, including convenience stores and youth-oriented magazines such as Rolling Stone. One magazine ad has the slogan 'Cock-A-Doodle Freakin Do,' which the letter argues 'clearly is not aimed at switching adult smokers' to smokeless tobacco.

The letter concludes that if UST is serious about reducing the harm caused by tobacco use, 'it will take these concerns to the appropriate public health agencies, including the Surgeon General, the National Cancer Institute and the Food and Drug Administration. Together, these agencies have the expertise to evaluate the health effects of smokeless tobacco products and to develop mechanisms for ensuring that any health claims actually reduce the number of people who die from tobacco rather than just increasing the number of people who are at risk.'

View the public health groups' letter.