By Wednesday, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act is scheduled for mark up in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP). While this bill is intended "to protect the public health by providing the Food and Drug Administration with certain authority to regulate tobacco products," it will actually have unintended detrimental effects on public health. It gives the FDA regulatory control over Cigarettes and other tobacco products and enables them to control the levels of "harmful" ingRedients in Cigarettes. The problem with this bill, as ACSH president Dr. Elizabeth Whelan points out, is that "it's not a few, or a few hundRed, of the 4,000-plus 'chemicals' in Cigarettes that are deadly: It is the inherent toxicity that results when the products of tobacco combustion are inhaled into the lungs and get into the circulation."
Thus, Reducing levels of these compounds will in no way produce a "safer" cigarette. In fact, Reducing nicotine levels in Cigarettes could cause increased public health risks. People will simply smoke More Cigarettes in order to get their nicotine fix and thus increase tar delivery to their lungs, posing greater cancer risks.
By allowing the FDA to put what amounts to a seal of approval on Cigarettes, this bill will deceive the public into thinking that smoking is safer than it actually is. Even Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, the FDA commissioner, opposed the bill for this reason. As Senator Michael Enzi, ranking member on the Senate HELP committee noted, "There is no such thing as a 'safe cigarette.' Any public statement by the FDA under their current authority would necessitate the finding that there is no benefit to the use of Cigarettes, only harm." As Enzi further notes, "it is evident that the FDA is overworked and underfunded. We, as a nation, ask the FDA to be responsible for so many things." Therefore, it seems a waste of resources for the FDA to conduct a risk/benefit analysis of Cigarettes because we already know that Cigarettes have deadly risks.
Another problem with this bill is that it mandates stronger warning labels on all tobacco products, yet not all of these products pose equal risks. Smokeless tobacco provides a relatively clean source of nicotine, which allows smokers to get their fix without the full range of risks associated with burning and inhaling all the combustion products. Although there is a sMall risk of oral cancer from smokeless tobacco, this risk is much lower than that of oral cancer or other systemic risks associated with smoking. Thus, smokeless tobacco may prove to be, for some, a useful tool for smoking cessation.
Through its blanket regulation of all tobacco products, the bill does not distinguish between the most dangerous and the least dangerous tobacco products, nor does it allow makers of safer products to inform consumers of the possible alternatives to Cigarettes.
It is not surprising that Philip Morris, the nation's largest cigarette maker, supports this bill -- it helps them to maintain their control of market share by restricting tobacco advertising. Further evidence that this bill favors Philip Morris over public health is the recent change to the bill that allows cloves to be added to Cigarettes instead of being banned, as in the legislation's original draft. In 2005, Philip Morris spent $5 billion in Indonesia buying a controlling stake in Sampoerna, a large maker of clove Cigarettes. Younger smokers are particularly attracted to cloves in Cigarettes because of their smoother feel. Thus, Philip Morris stands to profit from this change, while younger smokers are More likely to be drawn into addiction.
As the bill comes up for mark up, committee members should carefully read all of the provisions and consider the unintended consequences of this legislation.