Anti-Smoking Advocates Work To Block Smokeless Tobacco Company’s ‘Less of a Health Risk’ Marketing Strategy
Anti-tobacco politicians and activists are working to block a request by tobacco company UST Inc., makers of the Skoal and Copenhagen brands of smokeless tobacco, to claim that smokeless tobacco pose "less of a health risk" than cigarettes, the Wall Street Journal reports. The product's opponents say that if the Federal Trade Commission were to approve such a "relative risk" claim, it could set a "dangerous precedent" that could lead young people to use smokeless tobacco and then possibly cigarettes. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) have written a letter to the FTC asking the agency to deny the company's request, made in February (Lawton, Wall Street Journal, 6/5). The senators also sent a letter to the National Association of Attorneys General asking the group to investigate UST for violations of the 1998 Smokeless Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, under which more than 40 states banned marketing to children (Winter, New York Times, 6/5). The letter cites a Massachusetts Health Department study that examined the tobacco company's advertising in publications "with a substantial youth readership" and other studies that focused on smokeless tobacco as a "gateway product to cigarettes" (Wall Street Journal, 6/5). The health department study found that UST had expanded its advertising in magazines such as Rolling Stone, Spin and Sports Illustrated, which have been "read by millions of youths over the last three years."
Mike Azinet, a spokesperson for UST, said, "We're quite serious about our support of the master settlement agreement and believe that all tobacco products should be for adults only." He added that the company advertised in those publications because the "overwhelming majority of subscribers ... are adults" (Dembner, Boston Globe, 6/5). Richard Verheij, UST's general counsel, said that opponents to the relative risk claim "offer little evidence" that smokeless tobacco is as dangerous as cigarettes. He said, "Nobody debated the accuracy of our claims. Fundamentally the question is, does that information get communicated to adults or does it get suppressed?" (New York Times, 6/5). But Dr. Gregory Connolly, head of the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program, said, "The last thing we want is to see kids taking up these products or adults returning because they think [smokeless tobacco] products are safe" (Boston Globe, 6/5).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.