Posted by Anne Landman on February 13, 2007

It's not often you hear of a tobacco company begging for government regulation--especially one that has screamed "too much government regulation" at virtually every tobacco-related public health law proposed in the past. But that's exactly what tobacco company lobbyists are doing. Lobbyists for Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris (PM), have reportedly been distributing to Congress members summaries of two legislative bills that both propose the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate cigarettes. A colleague of mine managed to obtain a copy of the summaries. It has Altria's logo on it.

Recent studies showing tobacco companies have been ramping up the amount of nicotine in cigarettes have renewed the clamor for FDA regulation of cigarettes. The fact that PM is distributing summaries of two soon-to-be-proposed bills that would do just that shows PM has intimate knowledge of both bills well in advance of public notification. Seems appropriate, since PM probably had a significant part in drafting the bills. A Tobacco-On Trial blog entry from January 26, 2005 (the blog that covered the U.S. Department of Justice's racketeering lawsuit against the tobacco industry) describes PM attorney Dan Webb's cross-examination of Altria Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs Steven C. Parrish. In his testimony, Parrish emphasized the company had been working with Representative Henry Waxman, and Senator Ted Kennedy in advocating FDA regulation. It is no coincidence that Kennedy and Waxman are both sponsors of the two soon-to-be proposed bills. Could these two staunchly anti-tobacco legislators have been taken in by Altria's sweet promises of corporate responsibility?

Frankly, it's hard to picture anyone besides an industry lobbyist drafting this legislation. The proposed language seems more concerned with limiting the powers of the FDA than with addressing public health concerns.

Just take a look at a few of the provisions: Both bills explicitly provide that FDA will not be allowed to prohibit the sale of any tobacco product to adults age 18 and over. This reinforces the "kids don't smoke" focus that has worked so well for PM in the past, framing tobacco use as a youth problem instead of a societal one. It also allows PM, with its bogus "Youth Smoking Prevention" campaigns, to paint itself as part of the solution. It also keeps people from seeing that the company's products and corporate behavior are societal problems, and keeps the focus off the fact that tobacco kills over 400,000 adults (not children) every year.

The bills also prevent FDA from mandating removal of nicotine from cigarettes altogether, reserving that right solely to Congress. This provision effectively hobbles FDA from the beginning, preventing it from responding to advances in science or policy.

Both bills also direct FDA to consider whether a new standard pertaining to tobacco would create new demand for contraband products. This is a huge loophole. Lots of proof exists demonstrating that tobacco companies purposely stimulate contraband commerce as a way to force policy changes on governments and get around regulations restricting new products. All a tobacco company would have to do to fight any FDA rule it doesn't like would be to ratchet up its contraband machine, and voila! New FDA rule goes away.

The bills also require that FDA product standards apply nationwide. This prevents states from imposing stricter standards than federal regulations. Another word for this is "preemption," a legislative strategy PM developed and implemented nationally in the 1990s to slow the landslide of laws cities and towns across the U.S. were passing to end smoking in public places. Preemption, as originally developed by PM, removed the rights of cities and towns to enact smoking laws stricter than state laws. Preemptive laws stop people from acting on new information, or taking quick steps to protect people more strongly than federal laws allow. In recent years, as federal governments have failed to take action to address tobacco's toll of death and disease, state and Canadian provincial laws have been enacted that require disclosure of cigarette additives and the chemical contents of smoke, and have mandated fire-safe cigarettes, for example--all things that benefit people but that tobacco companies disdain.

The bills assure that tobacco companies will stay in business and make profits well into the future. The bills fail to address the underlying problem: that tobacco companies are bound by law to return profits for shareholders, and, like machines, operate for profit and to the detriment of public health. We need no more proof of the benefit of these bills to tobacco companies than the fact that Altria is stumping so hard for them. If Altria thought the bills would put a dent in the cigarette business, they'd be fighting them, not carrying on an internal corporate program to enact them. A good FDA bill is one tobacco companies don't welcome with open arms.

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Comments

I notice that ONLY PM and their parent company are mentioned. Are you aware that Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) is ALSO very much in favor of this regulation? It's public knowledge and no great secret.

Dear Anne,

Good points. Generally speaking, businesses grouse at regulations, but Philip Morris is the leader and sees regulations as a way to freeze their lead.

As I understand, the 440,000 figure for cigaret-related deaths includes about 6,600 children’s deaths due mostly to their parents smoking around them, including during pregnancy with them en utero.

I hope that we don’t get another bill like the ban that got ads off radio and television that came back to bite us when states tried to regulate other advertisements. When states pre-empt local laws, then a lawsuit could have negated the state law, and people would have been unprotected. Even grandfathering in local laws don’t protect them, for lawsuits can kill them, and the people have no way to pass new ones.

But Congress favors laws that apply across the board to all the states, and state legislatures like laws that apply to all the subdivisions of the state. Now, that is fine when the law is GOOD. It is not fine when the law has holes and actually protects the tobacco companies from state or local regulations.

It sounds like the bills are weak enough for Republicans to vote for them. Uh-oh, bills that tobacco companies and Republicans favor?

D. Gordon Draves, President
Georgians Against Smoking Pollution

Someone let me register as a clove smoker and mail order my cigarettes! Is this not a free country anymore?Now that obama banned my cloves and I have to order them like a criminal, I wonder if he would sign a ban that included his cigarettes now that I am scrambling to get a bunch of djarums shipped before september 1st and find a resource to get them after the ban. These cigarettes are $8 a pack and $70 a carton. Why don't we sell flavored (or all cigarettes) in cartons? Then only smokers who are dedicated can buy them, children and the poor people who can afford a single packs but not health care will have to quit. I thought I lived in america, a free country. Where as an adult I have the priveledge to make a decision if I want flavored tobacco or flavored liquor. Flavored liquor is way more desirable to teenagers than flavored cigarettes. Flavored cigarettes are not affordable but any kid can get flavored liquor for a few dollars. We already have a law that prevnts minors from smoking, it is really the obligation of the parent. Not the government. Surely we wouldn't ban menthol or whatever brand Obama smokes anytime soon. These cigarettes I have been legally smoking since college are now illegal. I may as well smoke pot, they'll legalize that and tax it but won't let me enjoy a clove with my coffee. These guys get $210 a month from me for a pack of djarums a day and $2500 a year. Kids can't afford that. Middle class men and women can barely swing that. Especially these day, kids don't really smoke like they used to. People look at you like you have a disease when you smoke. Kids and the poor are going to smoke whatever they can afford. Most kids start on the brands there family and friends smoke (marlboro,camel,newports) menthols being especially popular with kids durinf the rise of hip-hop/pop culture. They are easier to smoke. A lot of people won't even smoke cloves because they are harsh and heavy. I gave my cousin who has been smoking reds for 30 years a clove yesterday and he almost choked to death. Way to much for the average smoker. These clove cigarettes are more cigarish and elitest with their high prices and taxes. Which is weird why in a recession that we take items off the shelf that provide such high tax revenues. Cloves and even other flavored cigarettes are smoked by the college type, the intellectual, coffee shop goers, musicians, goths, eccerntrics and other berkely types. These enjoyable smokes help me relax, review and reassess while I enjoy a cup of coffee. My friend likes them once or twice a month when drinking. My friend from indonesia smokes them daily like I do except the difference between me and him is you are depriving this man of his cultural right when america is suppose to embrace the ideas of different ethnic groups. We let the jewish go to temple, we let the middle eastern folk go to mosque and put curry on everything, the russian's get their vodka and the asians get their rice, rotten eggs and dog. My friend can't ever again smell the clove scent of his country, he and I went from being successful businessmen to having to become illegal clove importers just to enjoy our lifestyles. Just for my friend to enjoy is culture and feel at home with how he was raised. Almost all clove cigarettes come from indonesia and so it really disrupts their market regardless of what the upper brass thinks. This is protectionism. This is a violation of my amendments and rights. This law gives the fda way too much control and makes us a big brother country where the government raises the children since we allow the parents to be incompetent. I am an american who has been stripped of constitutional rights. I will do what I want, this will not stop me from getting my cloves nor will the lack of the 1% of cloves in the market will not curb kids from smoking. Most kids don't smoke these days. It's not cool to smoke you get treated like a leper. Like I said, sell cigarettes by the carton only and tax them to death. The real smokers will buy them. The drinking smokers will bum them and the kids and very low income will not be able to afford them. I mean what's next? Take away my flavored mouthwash? What about super sweet apricot beer that kids love. Kids die from alcohol, not cigarettes, more kids die from fraternity activities. Kids who smoke generally have family that smoke. No one wakes up and says I think it will be cool to pay for bad breath and cancer just to hold this cool stick. Leave us free adults alone. Regulate the parents and do not let the administration and the fda turn america in to a dictatorship and make us 1% of smokers live a harder life of luxury. To much control. Iv've always leaned more democrat but honestly these liberals need to leave me alone with their whole foods infested berkelyish veagan ideas that say I can't eat meat or ill die, or transfast because ill die or oxygen because ill die. Don't worry we will all die soon enough and if you don't let smokers and drinkers kill themselves then you have population control to deal with. Well let's just let the fda put mercury in our dental fillings, and hormones in our babys milk and not let us smoke the brand of cigarettes we enjoy. Protectionsim, loss of rights. Damn is the apocolypse comming? I hope indonesia sticks their foot sideways up the behind of the WTO and fight for my rights as an american before I have to move to a country that is a little less motherly. This is how I feel and most people agree. The new ban is stupid.