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Vector’s Claims About New “Nicotine-Free Cigarettes” Underscore Need For Congress to Grant FDA Authority Over All Tobacco Products

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
January 27, 2003

Washington, D.C. — The Vector Group Ltd.'s announcement today that it is introducing 'nicotine-free cigarettes,' which it is marketing under the brand name Quest, underscores the need for Congress to act quickly to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority over all tobacco products. As the tobacco industry introduces a new generation of products with statements that lead consumers to believe these products are safer or will help smokers quit, it is imperative that the FDA have the authority to protect consumers and ensure that any claims made about tobacco products are true and do not harm the public health. While tobacco companies should be encouraged to reduce known carcinogens and other harmful chemicals in their products, consumers deciding whether to use these products deserve to be fully protected by a qualified government agency, the FDA, rather than an industry with a long history of deception. Until Congress grants the FDA the authority it needs, customers smoking these new products are essentially human guinea pigs in a potentially deadly science experiment.

In its announcement today, Vector said it is introducing three varieties of its Quest cigarette, each with decreasing amounts of nicotine. It claims that 'Quest 3, the nicotine-free variety, contains only trace levels of nicotine.' The product is being sold in seven states – Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

While Vector seeks to portray the introduction of Quest as a responsible step that 'deserves serious consideration from the public health community,' its initial announcement irresponsibly implies that Quest can help smokers to quit while stopping short of explicitly claiming Quest is a smoking cessation product, which would lead to FDA regulation under existing law. In fact, Vector's description of Quest as a 'step-down approach to nicotine-free smoking' is strikingly similar to Pharmacia Corporation's description of its Nicotrol Step-Down Patch smoking cessation product, which also has three nicotine strength levels and is marketed as helping smokers 'step down gradually until you're free.' The difference is that the Nicotrol product is FDA-approved. Vector wants to have it both ways. They want smokers to believe that Quest can help them quit while avoiding the rigorous regulatory scrutiny applied to smoking cessation products, which must be proven safe and effective.

Absent FDA regulation, consumers do not have any way of knowing whether Quest is less hazardous or less addictive because no independent body has examined this product. In addition, there is cause for concern because consumers, including kids, may start using Quest thinking it is safer or will help them quit only to find out later, after the scientific studies are conducted, that neither is true. There is a real risk of a repeat of the public health disaster caused by the introduction of 'light' and 'low-tar' cigarettes. Many smokers switched to these products thinking they were safer or would help them quit, only to find out decades later that neither is true.

The introduction of Quest poses other risks as well. Because many consumers falsely believe that nicotine is the primary toxin in tobacco products, the use of the phrase 'nicotine-free' alone will mislead consumers into thinking Quest has been proven to be safer. The reduction of nicotine levels alone does nothing to reduce the tar, carcinogens, carbon monoxide and hundreds of other toxins in cigarettes that cause lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, birth defects and other deadly diseases.

We call on Vector to stop implying any smoking cessation or other health benefits from its Quest product, and we call on Congress to give the FDA the full and meaningful authority it needs to regulate tobacco products and protect the public health.