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FDA UNFILTERED

Tobacco industry experts weigh in on the new law

June 29, 2009|Shari Roan; Shara Yurkiewicz

Blake Brown

He is an agricultural economist at North Carolina State University and provides economic analysis and educational programming for tobacco and peanut producers. Brown has worked with the tobacco industry and health advocates to understand factors that affect the demand for tobacco products.

"It's very hard to quantify the impact of regulations on the demand for tobacco. But I would think there would be two effects as a result of this legislation. One is, over time, we will see a substantial decline in cigarette consumption. I think the other potential impact is that these regulations call for modified-risk tobacco products. That will change the technology of the way cigarettes are made. These technology changes would likely lead to less tobacco per cigarette.

"So if you have a decline in the number of cigarettes smoked, and you have a decline in the amount of tobacco used per cigarette, I think that will have a substantial impact on demand for U.S. tobacco. . . . The U.S. tobacco industry has been downsizing for many years, and continued downsizing would be no surprise.

"But the big question is how stringent these regulations will be. There is a lot of leeway on what can be required. We won't really know the impact until the regulatory agencies start to work on this."

-- Shari Roan

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Stanton Glantz

He is a professor of medicine and director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at UC San Francisco. A longtime tobacco control researcher and activist, he is the recipient of the American Cancer Society's 2009 Luther L. Terry Award for Exemplary Leadership in Tobacco Control.

Because the legislation allows the Food and Drug Administration to appoint a scientific advisory committee that will include representatives from the tobacco industry, Glantz says he feels the FDA will be unable to accomplish far-reaching measures to control tobacco and reduce smoking rates. Moreover, he says, the bill minimizes the adverse economic effect on the tobacco industry, when the goal, in his opinion, should be to drive such companies out of business.

"I was speaking at [a national tobacco-prevention conference] in Phoenix two weeks ago when someone passed me a note that said the Senate passed the bill. When I announced it, about half the audience applauded somewhat. Most people in the field are not enthused about the bill. They have real problems with the bill.

"I think the bill is a huge missed opportunity for public health. The FDA's scientific advisory committee will have three tobacco industry representatives on it. They are non-voting, but I don't think that will matter. The fact that they are there at all is a problem. I think people have grossly underestimated how much trouble that will cause.

"Two things in the bill are quite good. The states can act independently from the federal government [on tobacco control] as can cities and local governments. . . . The place of real movement on tobacco control is at the state and local level.

"The other is that the bill allows for graphic warning labels. Graphic warning labels were developed in Canada a decade ago. They have a picture of smoking consequences, like a rotting lung or rotting teeth or heart disease. The warning labels on cigarette packages in the United States now are the weakest in the world. But there is a lot of evidence that graphic warning labels really do work."

-- Shari Roan

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Scott Ramminger

He's president of the American Wholesale Marketers Assn., in Fairfax, Va., an organization that represents distributors who purchase tobacco products from manufacturers and supply convenience stores. The organization joined with the National Assn. of Tobacco Outlets to oppose the legislation.

"We were not in favor of the legislation. We don't really think it's appropriate for FDA to be regulating tobacco. We don't think having more regulations is going to accomplish anything except cost the taxpayers a lot more money. It's difficult to say exactly what impact it's going to have. It really depends on how FDA decides to implement the legislation. That is where the rubber hits the road.

"But here is what I'm afraid could happen. In Canada and other places where draconian regulations have gone in effect, it has basically driven up the cost of the product. Any regulation imposed on any point in the supply chain is going to drive up the cost of the product. You've seen states raise the tax on cigarettes and the federal government has too. What it does is create a great opportunity for organized crime and people interested in subverting the system to bring in bootleg products on the black market. Cigarettes are very easy to make. . . . In California, you've already had a problem with counterfeit cigarettes from China.

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