The Time Is Right For Federal Regulation Of Cigarettes

September 4, 2001
Source: Michael E. Pfeil, Vice President, Communications and Public Affairs, Philip Morris U.S.A

Over the past several weeks and months, members of Congress have introduced legislation to give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power the regulate cigarettes. As the largest producer of cigarettes in the United States, Philip Morris believes the time is right for Congress to craft federal legislation that makes sense. We support a congressional process that will produce a sensible, useful FDA bill that will regulate tobacco products. And we believe that all voices with a stake in this issue need to be heard. We encourage retailers, wholesalers, smokers, cigarette manufacturers and the public health community to participate in the discussions to help shape legislation.

Some people are skeptical of our motives. Yet our reason is simple: we believe tough, but sensible regulation can bring greater stability and consistency to tobacco policy and greater predictability to the tobacco business. It can provide the opportunity to define, through statute and regulation, the rules of the game for manufacturing and marketing cigarettes in the United States. And we believe that, in order to meet the expectations of society today, the tobacco industry and cigarettes must be subjected to increased government oversight and regulation, comparable to many common consumer goods.

It's important to note, however, that cigarettes are a unique consumer product. As a result they should be regulated as cigarettes, not as food or medical devices. We do believe there is a need to create a separate and distinct regulatory regime that - while respecting the decision of adults who smoke - provides for: additional information on tobacco-related issues; government oversight of cigarette manufacturing; and standards for the design, introduction and responsible communications regarding potentially reduced-risk cigarettes.

Philip Morris and the public health community agree on many positions contained in the legislative proposals currently pending in Congress. These include:

  • Providing FDA authority to: revise the text of existing warning labels on cigarette packs and advertisements; establish a national standard for cigarette ingredient disclosure; establish standards for providing more information about smoke constituents, including tar and nicotine, to consumers; oversee cigarette manufacturing processes; ensure consistent use of brand descriptors such as "light"; and test cigarette ingredients to ensure they don't increase the inherent risks or addictiveness of smoking;
  • Establishing a national minimum age of 18 for the purchase of tobacco products;
  • Prohibiting the sale of cigarettes unpacked, as single cigarettes; and
  • Establishing a national requirement that cigarettes be sold only when age can be verified and access laws can be monitored and enforced.

We also believe that FDA regulation is the best way to establish appropriate standards for determining what constitutes a "reduced risk" cigarette. This would include setting guidelines for any claims that could be made by manufacturers, including the type and manner of communication that should be provided to consumers.

The 1998 settlement that tobacco companies reached with the states has significantly curtailed cigarette advertising. Most forms of outdoor advertising are gone. Paid product placements in movies and television are prohibited. The distribution of merchandise with tobacco brand logos is prohibited. In addition, the states have billions of dollars they can spend on tobacco education, research, advertising, cessation, smoking related healthcare costs for smokers, and cigarette access programs.

Philip Morris strongly supports Congressional action codifying these marketing provisions (including the provision prohibiting the marketing of cigarettes to minors) so that those restrictions would apply to the entire U.S. tobacco industry.

There is significant agreement between Philip Morris and our critics on the fundamentals of an FDA bill. However, several issues still need to be resolved. All of us have an opportunity to address the details in this Congress, and we are willing to work with our critics and others to make reasonable FDA regulation of cigarettes a reality.

A detailed Philip Morris U.S.A. position paper on this issue is available at www.philipmorrisusa.com. We hope that you take the time to become familiar with this issue and our position and work with us to achieve this goal during the current legislative session.