Philip Morris Explains Regulations Stand
Jun. 04, 2003
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The nation's leading cigarette maker explained to lawmakers Tuesday that it has reversed its long-held opposition to Food and Drug Administration regulation of tobacco in order to help market two products that may be less harmful.
At the same hearing, the country's biggest snuff maker pressed for the right to make health claims about its product.
Philip Morris USA is leading the push for FDA regulation, though it fought such a move in the past.
Mike Szymanczyk, the company's chief executive, testified before a House Government Reform subcommittee that FDA oversight could more effectively enable Philip Morris to market two new products it is developing that could be less harmful to smokers than existing cigarettes. He stated that ``it would not be ideal to begin to communicate to consumers about our new products' potential benefits in the absence of FDA legislation.''
One is a cigarette that the company believes has fewer of the harmful substances found in current brands. The other is a cigarette-like device in which tobacco is electrically heated.
``In the absence of FDA authority in this area, we are forced into making a difficult choice between making claims that haven't been validated by a government agency, on the one hand, and not providing smokers with information that may be important to them, on the other,'' Szymanczyk said.
The FDA asserted jurisdiction over tobacco and sought to crack down on cigarette sales to minors in 1996, but the Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the agency needed congressional approval.
Philip Morris is backing legislation by Reps. Tom Davis, R-Va., and Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., that would allow the FDA to regulate tobacco. Health advocates want FDA regulation but say the bill backed by Philip Morris is too weak.
``Philip Morris wants a government stamp of approval on their next generation of so-called reduced-risk tobacco products,'' said Bill Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. ``They want FDA to have authority that is so weak it will not change the status quo.''
Specifically, Corr said the Davis-McIntyre bill would not go far enough to shield children from cigarette ads and would not give the government enough power to order the removal of harmful substances from cigarettes.
In addition to hearing from Philip Morris, lawmakers heard U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. press for the ability to claim in ads that smokeless tobacco products are safer than cigarettes.
The Connecticut-based company, which makes snuff, also has asked the Federal Trade Commission, which regulates false and deceptive advertising, to consider its request.
``Such communication will help adult smokers make more informed choices,'' company vice president Richard Verheij told a separate hearing, before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.
Verheij pointed to studies in Europe that say snuff and chewing tobacco are less harmful than cigarettes, but U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona was skeptical.
``I don't think they have enough scientific data to justify making that statement,'' Carmona said of one British study.
Asked whether he would support banning tobacco products, Carmona said he would. But he added that legislation was not his field and that it would be up to Congress to take such a step.
Congress passed a law in 1986 requiring the placement of surgeon general's warnings on all smokeless tobacco products. That followed the release of a government report that concluded smokeless tobacco causes cancer and other diseases and is not a safer substitute for cigarette smoking.
Carmona said that recommendation should stand, but some Republican lawmakers said it seemed too rigid.
``For those smokers who can't seem to quit smoking, switching to a less hazardous product could save lives,'' said Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.
As for FDA regulation, Verheij said his company might back such a proposal if it allowed U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. to make comparative health claims.
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