Wednesday, 14 April 2010 16:15

Congress continues the Smokeless Tobacco Inquisition

Written by Bill Godshall
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April 14th 2010 - The US House Health Subcommittee is now holding a hearing entitled:  Smokeless Tobacco: Impact on the Health of our Nation's Youth and Use in Major League Baseball, You can view the hearing by clicking on the preceding link and then and clicking on the Live Webcast at the bottom right column.

As expected, several witnesses and many Democrats on the Subcommittee have greatly exaggerated the well known health risks of smokeless tobacco use, and have claimed that smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.  As I write this, Deborah Winn just inaccurately claimed that "smokeless tobacco is not a safer alternative to cigarette smoking".

More than two years ago, Smokefree Pennsylvania sent the following letter to all members of the House Subcommittee on Health.  Unfortunately for public health, facts don't matter to abstinence-only anti-tobacco extremists who don't want cigarette smokers to sharply reduce their risks by switching to smokeless tobacco products, and who mislead smokers to believe that smokeless tobacco is just as hazardous as cigarettes.

- - -

March 3, 2008

The Honorable Frank Pallone, Chair
U.S. House Subcommittee on Health
237 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-3006

RE: FDA tobacco regulatory legislation (H.R.1108) in Subcommittee on Health

Dear Chairman Pallone:

Smokefree Pennsylvania urges you to oppose H.R. 1108, a negotiated deal agreed to by cigarette giant Philip Morris and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids in 2004, because it:

- conceals the fact that cigarettes are 10+ times deadlier than smokefree tobacco products,
- misleads consumers to believe that smokefree products are just as hazardous as cigarettes,
- protects cigarettes and Philip Morris from market competition by smokefree products,
- prohibits smokefree products from truthful claiming they pose lower risks than cigarettes,
- discourages cigarette companies from transitioning to less hazardous smokefree products,
- authorizes and paves the way for FDA to perpetuate the safer cigarette myth/fraud, and
- denies the FDA of authority to halt cigarette marketing/sales to high school students.

Sound regulations truthfully inform consumers about the known risks of different products. Cigarettes are at least 10 times deadlier than smokefree (i.e. smokeless) tobacco products, but 85% of smokers incorrectly believe that smokefree tobacco products are just as hazardous as cigarettes.  Instead of accurately informing smokers about product risks, H.R. 1108 protects cigarettes and Philip Morris’ monopoly by perpetuating this myth/fraud.

Smokers can sharply reduce their health risks by switching to smokefree tobacco products, and tobacco consumers have a right to know the huge differences in risks posed by these tobacco products.  I coauthored a report “Tobacco harm reduction: an alternative cessation strategy for inveterate smokers” at

Sound regulations also provide incentives for industry to develop and transition to safer products.  Tobacco consumers in the U.S. obtain 87% of their nicotine from the deadliest product (cigarettes), and just 12% from the least hazardous tobacco/nicotine products (smokefree).  But H.R. 1108 discourages cigarette companies from transitioning to less hazardous products by prohibiting all smokefree tobacco products from truthfully claiming they are less hazardous alternatives to cigarettes, and by requiring all smokefree tobacco products to contain even larger deceptive warning labels stating: "This product is not a safe alternative to cigarettes."  Please SUPPORT an amendment to eliminate this intentionally misleading warning (in Title II, Section 204) from H.R. 1108.

While H.R. 1108 properly bans deceptive “low-tar”, “light” and “mild” brand descriptors for cigarettes, the bill simultaneously perpetuates this deadly consumer health myth/fraud (also incorrectly believed by 85% of smokers) that some cigarettes are safer than others by failing to warn smokers that all cigarettes are equally hazardous, and by authorizing and paving the way for the FDA to establish deceptive cigarette emission standards based upon inaccurate cigarette machine tests (which is what created the low-tar/lights safer cigarette myth/fraud decades ago under FTC oversight).  

Similarly, Section 911(g)(2) of the bill allows a cigarette manufacturer to apply for and receive FDA approval to make "an explicit or implicit representation that such tobacco product or its smoke contains or is free of a substance or contains a reduced level of a substance, or presents a reduced exposure to a substance in tobacco smoke."  Philip Morris has indicated that it has developed a so-called “reduced exposure” cigarette that could qualify for FDA approval under Section 911(g)(2), which could further deceive smokers.  

To more adequately inform consumers about the vastly different risks of different tobacco products, Smokefree Pennsylvania urges you to SUPPORT an amendment to HR 1108 requiring the FDA to assess and make publicly available a ranking of different tobacco and nicotine-containing products based upon their health risks. Suggested text follows letter.

Similarly, Smokefree Pennsylvania urges you to SUPPORT an amendment to H.R. 1108 identical to the amendment offered by Senator Mike Enzi to S. 625 (companion of H.R. 1108) to require color-graphic warning labels to cover 50% of cigarette packages, which was approved (without dissent) by the Senate HELP Committee last August.  Large pictorial warnings (required in Canada, Brazil, Australia and other countries) effectively educate smokers about risks, unlike small text-only warnings (required by H.R. 1108).

In sharp contrast to claims that H.R. 1108 would end tobacco industry marketing to youth, Section 906(d)(3)(A)(ii) of the legislation protects the tobacco industry by prohibiting the FDA from halting tobacco sales to high school students (by prohibiting the FDA from ending tobacco sales to 18 or 19 year olds), ensuring that millions of high school students will continue becoming addicted to cigarettes under FDA oversight.  Thus, we urge you to SUPPORT an amendment to HR 1108 to remove Section 906(d)(3)(A)(ii) from the bill.

Smokefree Pennsylvania also endorses the many improvements to H.R 1108 that have proposed by Scott Ballin and the Alliance for Health, Economic and Agricultural Development (AHEAD) at:

Since 1990, Smokefree Pennsylvania has advocated policies to reduce tobacco smoke pollution indoors, increase cigarette taxes, reduce tobacco marketing to youth, preserve civil justice remedies for victims, expand smoking cessation services, and inform smokers that smokefree tobacco/nicotine products are far less hazardous alternatives to cigarettes.

Thank you for your consideration, and feel free to contact me anytime.


William T. Godshall, MPH
Executive Director

Proposed amendment to H.R. 1108 to rank tobacco products according to health risks

In Section 911 of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (as added by Title I), insert

“(1) STANDARD AND PROCEDURES. – Not later than 24 months after the date of enactment of this chapter, the Sectretary shall, by regulation, after consultation with an Advisory Committee established for such a purpose, establish the standards and procedures for promulgating rankings, comprehensible to consumers of tobacco products, of the following categories of tobacco products and also nicotine-containing products on the basis of relative risks of serious or chronic tobacco-related diseases and adverse health conditions those categories of tobacco products and also nicotine-containing products respectively present in –
“(A) cigarettes;
“(B) loose tobacco for roll-your-own tobacco products;
“(C ) little cigars;
“(D) cigars;
“(E) pipe tobacco;
“(F) moist
“(G) dry snuff;
“(H) chewing tobacco;
“(I) other forms of tobacco products, including palletized tobacco and compressed tobacco, treated collectively as a single category; and
“(J) other nicotine-containing products, treated collectively as a single category.
“(2) CONSIDERATION IN PROMULGATING REGULATIONS. – In promulgating regulation under this section, the Secretary –
“(A) shall take into account relevant epidemiologic studies and other relevant competent and reliable scientific evidence; and
“(B) in assessing the risks of serious or chronic tobacco-related diseases and adverse health conditions presented by a particular category, shall consider the range of tobacco products or nicotine-containing products within the category, and shall give appropriate weight to the market share of the respective products in the category.
“(3) PROMULGATION OF RANKING OF CATEGORIES – Once the initial regulations required by paragraph (1) are in effect, the Secretary shall promptly, by order, after notice and an opportunity for comment, promulgate and make available to the general public rankings of the categories of tobacco products and nicotine-containing products in accordance with such regulations. The Secretary shall promulgate the initial rankings of those categories of tobacco products and nicotine-containing products and make such ranking available to the general public not later than January 1, 2010. Thereafter, on an annual basis, the Secretary shall, by order, promulgate and make available to the general public updated rankings that are (1) in accordance with those regulations, and (2) reflect the scientific evidence available at the time of promulgation. The Secretary shall open and maintain an ongoing public docket for receipt of data and other information submitted by any person with respect to such annual promulgation of rankings.
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