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Smoking Prevention bill benefits tobacco companies.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (S. 625/H.R. 1108) amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to provide for the regulation of tobacco products by the Secretary of Health and Human Services through the Food and Drug Administration. The bill, which was introduced in the Senate in February by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and in the House by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif), is awaiting action by the full Senate.

Don't count on the Marlboro man to be riding off into the sunset any time soon, especially if Congress passes the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. The championing of that legislation by Philip Morris USA--America's top cigarette manufacturer with 50% of the market--should prompt skepticism about the measure and its alleged public health benefits. The company, and the industry in general, stand to benefit quite a bit from passage of the bill.

Placing our most lethal consumer product under the control of the Food and Drug Administration--the agency entrusted to ensure the safety of our medications and food--makes no sense. There is no evidence that the system of product safety standards set up by the bill would result in reduced harm to the consumer. Essentially, the bill gives the FDA a mandate that it can not carry out.

Under the bill, new and potentially less-hazardous tobacco products would be stringently reviewed and regulated, but these standards would not apply to the most harmful form of tobacco--existing cigarettes. The bill would enable the FDA to prevent the introduction of new cigarette brands that could not prove claims of reduced risk, which would freeze the market share of existing brands. The bill would make it virtually impossible for modified-risk products to enter the market, while at the same time permitting reduced-exposure products to be falsely marketed as reduced-risk products.

By promulgating health and safety standards for tobacco products (an oxymoron if there ever was one), the FDA will be fostering the perception that cigarettes are now safer to smoke. In other words, the bill will diminish the public's appreciation of the inherent, irredeemable harmfulness of cigarettes.

Proponents of the bill mistakenly believe that reductions in nicotine yields would be a good thing, but the reality is that such reductions (a mandate of the bill) could be harmful to public health because they would likely increase cigarette consumption. When very-low-fat dessert foods--such as Snackwells--became available, weight-conscious consumers took this as a sign that they could eat as many as they pleased. The same has already occurred with lower-nicotine-yield cigarettes; smokers compensate by smoking more cigarettes--a boon to tobacco companies--or by inhaling more deeply.

By permitting tobacco companies to tell consumers that they are complying with stringent product safety standards, the bill will create "government-approved" cigarettes. That slams the door on tobacco product liability litigation.

Instead of tinkering with product regulations, we should put more effort into reducing demand. We need to engage young people with a ubiquitous multimedia campaign that counters tobacco advertising. Such a campaign should be paid for not just by taxpayers but also by health insurers, voluntary health organizations, foundations, medical societies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and private enterprise. In other words, we need to fight smoke with fire.

DR. BLUM is professor and endowed chair in family medicine, and director of the Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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Title Annotation:GUEST EDITORIAL
Author:Blum, Alan
Publication:Internal Medicine News
Date:Aug 15, 2007
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