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Surgeon General Says He'd Back Tobacco Ban

June 04, 2003|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona said Tuesday that he supports the banning of tobacco products -- the first time that the government's top doctor and public health advocate has made such a strong statement about the contentious subject.

Testifying at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on smokeless tobacco and "reduced risk" tobacco products, Carmona was asked whether he would "support the abolition of all tobacco products."

"I would at this point, yes," he replied.

He declined to say whether he would support a specific law to ban tobacco -- saying that "legislation is not my field" -- but did say he "would support banning or abolishing tobacco products."

"If Congress chose to go that way, that would be up to them," he said. "But I see no need for any tobacco products in society."

Carmona's comments, made in answer to questions from Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), were received without much immediate response from the committee, but representatives from tobacco states later said they were startled.

"It just came out of the blue," Whitfield said after the hearing. "I've never heard anything like that from any public official -- and even from the advocates against tobacco. I was pretty disappointed and surprised and quite shocked."

Bush administration officials quickly distanced themselves from the comments, saying that they represented Carmona's views as a doctor rather than the position of the administration.

"That is not the policy of the administration," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "The president supports efforts to crack down on youth smoking and we can do more as a society to keep tobacco away from kids. That's our focus."

Carmona's comments came on the same day the nation's leading cigarette maker explained to lawmakers 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.

Philip Morris USA is leading the push for FDA regulation, a move it has fought 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 to be less harmful to smokers than existing cigarettes.

One is a cigarette with fewer of the harmful substances found in current brands. The other is a cigarette-like device in which tobacco is electrically heated.

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