Federal Appeals Court Overturns Mass. Law Allowing Health Officials To Disclose Ingredients in Cigarettes
A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that a Massachusetts law requiring tobacco companies to disclose the ingredients in all their brands and products violates the constitutional prohibition against unreasonable seizure of property by "forcing companies to reveal trade secrets," the Boston Globe reports. At issue is the state's Disclosure Act, which would have allowed the state Department of Public Health to publicly disclose ingredients in specific brands of cigarettes. While federal law requires tobacco companies to report ingredients to HHS, the information is not released publicly. Tobacco companies, led by Philip Morris, sued the state when the law was signed in 1996, arguing that it would allow competitors to copy cigarette recipes. While a panel of the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law last year, saying the public health concerns outweighed the threat to trade secrets, the full court reversed the decision, setting up a potential appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Gregory Connolly, director of the tobacco control program at the Department of Public Health, said the law only would require disclosure of ingredients proven to pose health risks. "We set up an elaborate process to protect companies ... from the release of entire lists of ingredients," he said, adding, "If your cigarette brand has more ammonia than another brand ... you should know that." Mike Pfeil, vice president of communications for Philip Morris, said the ruling protects the company's "proprietary interest."
The Globe reports that state officials are exploring other options to regulate tobacco additives. State Sens. Steven Tolman (D) and Mark Montigny (D) introduced legislation this summer that would have granted the public health department the ability to set limits on toxic ingredients; the companies' additives list would be kept confidential. The House never voted on the bill, but the senators plan to reintroduce it next year. If passed, Massachusetts would become the first state in the nation to regulate additive levels in cigarettes, the Globe reports. Pfeil said that Philip Morris already lists cigarette ingredients on its Web site, but not by brand. In addition, he noted that Philip Morris supports federal regulation of tobacco ingredients but not a state-by-state "patchwork of regulatory schemes" (Cambanis, Boston Globe, 12/4).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.