Philip Morris and the FDA

An interesting development. Should cigarettes be regulated by the FDA? Sounds somewhat logical to me, but I'm not a smoker. So many state economies depend upon cigarette tax dollars to stay solvent, what happens if tobacco sales decrease by 10%?

Capitol Hill Power Shift Could Aid Philip Morris - ... Representative Henry A. Waxman (D., Calif.) -- long the industry's chief Capitol Hill scourge -- just became an important committee chairman. Loyal Republican allies of big tobacco are now in the minority, including John Boehner (R., Ohio), a smoker who in 1995 famously handed out checks from tobacco lobbyists on the House floor (he later apologized), and Roy Blunt (R., Mo.), whose wife is a lobbyist for Altria Group Inc., the parent of Philip Morris USA. (Mr. Blunt's office notes that his wife doesn't lobby the House.) Because of the changes on Capitol Hill, the public could be seeing all sorts of ideas floated that had sunk quickly before -- from a federal excise tax increase to photos of diseased lungs on cigarette packs.

rris, the shift in power could be a blessing in disguise. That's because it could help ease the way for legislation to give the Food and Drug Administration new powers to control how cigarettes are made and marketed. That, ironically, could help Philip Morris maintain its current market domination.

The FDA doesn't regulate cigarettes. Under former commissioner David Kessler it tried years ago to claim jurisdiction over cigarettes as drug delivery devices -- the drug being nicotine -- but that effort was challenged by tobacco companies and rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Seems like a risky gamble for Philip Morris:

Philip Morris, however, has embraced the idea that the FDA should have broad powers over tobacco. “Legislation that reduces the serious harm caused by smoking would be a very good development, and it is not about giving a competitive advantage to any one company,” says Steven C. Parrish, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Altria.

The company's rivals contend that new restrictions would hurt them more because their brands are much less known than the famous Philip Morris Marlboro brand. With marketing potentially dramatically curtailed by FDA regulation, they would have fewer ways to promote themselves. The result, they say, would be that Marlboro would keep its market share. Philip Morris USA's share of the retail cigarette market was 50.4% as of the third quarter of 2006. Competitors such as Reynolds American Inc.'s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., which markets Camel and Kool cigarettes, gripe that FDA regulation is the “Marlboro Monopoly Act.”

Oversight by the FDA also would help Philip Morris develop a legal way to market its cigarette products that are meant to be less hazardous, such as Marlboro Ultra Smooth, which already have been selling in limited test markets but without any explicit health-related marketing claims. A bill in the works includes sections that define reduced-risk products, laying out how they can be marketed.

In coming weeks, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D., Mass), chairman of the Senate Health Committee, and Rep. Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, are expected to formally introduce FDA tobacco legislation. Sen. Kennedy's plan is for hearings in February and a vote in his committee on the bill in March. Phillip Morris USA Chief Executive Officer Michael Szymanczyk, and other cigarette company chiefs, are expected to be asked to testify before Congress.

They could face tough questions about some new findings from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health alleging that tobacco companies increased the level of addictive nicotine in their cigarettes. Philip Morris disputes the findings.

Another hot topic might be whether legislation should give the FDA power to demand that all cigarette makers reduce nicotine levels all the way to zero. In the past, Philip Morris has argued against that on the grounds that doing so would make cigarettes unacceptable to consumers.

Let's deregulate marijuana too, or let Philip Morris sell dime bags.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on January 25, 2007 9:52 AM.

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