FDA tobacco regulation or a lock in Altria's dominant position in the market..

April 3, 2009 - Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1256, the Family Smoking Prevention & Tobacco Control Act giving the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) power to regulate tobacco. Mr. Waxman and his Senate counterpart, Edward Kennedy, Democrat Mass., have promoted legislation giving the F.D.A. regulatory powers over tobacco products since the Supreme Court in 2000 ruled that the agency did not have that authority.

At present the FDA has the authority to regulate sunscreen, our prescriptions, a box of macaroni and cheese or even a tube of lipstick – but not any tobacco product. The
Waxman bill provides authority for the FDA to regulate tobacco with many limitations.

Correspondence New England Journal of Medicine: Volume 359:2070-2071, November 6, 2008, Number 19 Joel L. Nitzkin, M.D., M.P.H. American Association of Public Health Physicians. To the Editor: In 1998, Mark Berlind, chief legislative counsel of Philip Morris, drafted specifications for regulation of tobacco products by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that would ensure the continuing profitability of the Marlboro brand, provide a shield against litigation, and protect cigarettes from competition from less-toxic, smokeless tobacco products. The current Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (H.R. 1108/S. 625) discussed by Brandt in his Perspective article (July 31 issue) was negotiated between Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (TFK) and Mr. Berlind for purposes of securing an FDA bill with full support from our nation's largest cigarette maker. The text conforms to Mr. Berlind's 1998 specifications.

The bill has been dubbed by Fortune Magazine the "Altria Earnings Protection Act." We worry that the legislation will be flawed because the biggest player (with over half of the tobacco market) in the tobacco industry has been directly involved in writing the bill that regulates their industry. The true motivation behind the FDA tobacco regulation bill may be a big company’s desire to kill off its smaller competitors. "In short, it will lock in Altria's dominant position in the market."

As Senator Michael B. Enzi (R-WY) has pointed out, "Poison peddlers shouldn’t get to decide how we as responsible legislators fight the war against their deadly products."

Stanton A. Glantz, the founder and director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, and a professor of cardiology: “Going into partnership with them or cutting deals with them, there’s not a single case anytime anywhere in the world where that’s worked.”

“Philip Morris is supporting it for their own reasons,” said Mr. Waxman, a sponsor of the legislation. “This is a good bill and a strong bill,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve made any concessions that we’d want to change.” Chairman Henry A. Waxman of the Energy and Commerce Committee must stay very busy with lots of legislation various stages of development on his plate. As pointed out by Dr. Nitzkin despite the optimistic wording of the summaries used to attract endorsement and sponsors, this bill is so distorted in favor of Altria–Philip Morris that, if passed in its current form, it will do more harm than good in terms of future levels of teen smoking and future rates of tobacco-related illness and death. It can protect cigarettes or it can protect the public's health. It cannot do both.

Philip Morris which for years disputed research that found smoking was addictive and contributed to many health problems turned a blind eye when health-advocacy non-profit agencies stated that “Philip Morris shows contempt for women and their health by putting a pink gloss on Virginia Slims that causes lung cancer and heart disease, two of the leading killers of women.” In October 2008, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Philip Morris started marketing Virginia Slims with a slender "purse pack" in the same color of soft pink associated with the cancer campaign. Even TFK who partnered with Altria to write the tobacco regulation bill condemned Philip Morris for targeting women and girls.

Mike Szymanczyk now the CEO of Altria, Inc., the parent of Philip Morris Tobacco USA, brags to investors that they are directly involved in this legislation (Remarks, Investor Presentation, 3/11/2008)

Philip Morris is already preparing to circumvent the bill, once passed, by--for instance--seeking a trademark change for "Marlboro Snus Spice" to a more generic but still evocative trademarks such as "Marlboro Snus Snug Gold." Citi bank tells shareholders that if the FDA begins to regulate the tobacco industry, it would make little difference; many concessions have been granted to get tobacco companies to buy into this legislation weakening the bill even further. UST Inc. (now owned by Altria Group, Inc, the parent of Philip Morris), the biggest U.S. maker of smokeless tobacco products and the North American unit of Swedish Match AB which also sells smokeless tobacco announced they would support the bill. The bill was amended to give smokeless companies the ability to give away free samples to adults under limited circumstances which hadn't been allowed in earlier versions of the bill.

Regulation of the tobacco industry is absolutely necessary but let's do it RIGHT this time with less input from tobacco companies. Matthew L. Myers of TFK has even said, “The election of Barack Obama changes everything.”

Reference: Philip Morris’s Support Casts Shadow Over a Bill to Limit Tobacco by DUFF WILSON, The New York Times, 3/31/2009.

Archive of Supporting Documentation: U.S. House committee approves FDA tobacco regulation bill..; U.S. House considers legislation for FDA to regulate tobacco..; FDA regulation the other shoe to drop..; U.S. House committee approves FDA tobacco regulation bill..; U.S. House considers legislation for FDA to regulate tobacco..; U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce - legislation to regulate tobacco..; Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids - Need for FDA Regulation of Tobacco..; February 2009 - legislation FDA to regulate tobacco..; FDA Regulation Likely for Tobacco - Let's Do It RIGHT..; President--Elect Barack Obama and Tobacco..; Revise Senate's Version FDA Tobacco Regulation Bill..; FDA tobacco regulation - bill distorted in current form..; AWMA urges grassroots effort to defeat FDA tobacco regulation and SCHIP.."; More - Lorillard-Newport - FDA proposed tobacco regulation..; FDA Tobacco Regulation Bill Overwhelmingly Passed U.S. House..; House to Vote on FDA Regulation of Tobacco..; Bush administration opposes legislation to give FDA authority to regulate tobacco products...; With U.S. FDA tobacco regulations on the horizon Altria already preparing to circumvent the law..; Public health experts are questioning why menthol flavoring in cigarettes, received special protection as Congress tries to regulate tobacco..; Lorillard Tobacco opposes US FDA bill to regulate tobacco..; FDA regulation moves a step closer..; On Tuesday April 1, 1970 President Richard Nixon signed a measure banning cigarette advertising on radio and television, to take effect in January 1,..; FDA regulatory control tobacco bill is voted forward..; Reject Proposed Legislation That Would Add Responsibility For Tobacco Regulation to the FDA..; FDA Head: 'No' to Tobacco Cigarettes too "inherently dangerous" to regulate; would "undermine mission."; Federal tobacco regulation backed...; On July 18, 2007, the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee postponed a vote on the bill - which would for the first time allow...