Former FDA Head Urges Dismantling of Tobacco Industry
The tobacco industry "should be dismantled," and cigarettes should be sold in "brown paper wrappers" with only a "brand name and a warning label" from a corporation established and "tightly regulated" by Congress, former FDA head Dr. David Kessler writes in a new book that chronicles the agency's recent efforts to regulate Big Tobacco, the Washington Post reports. "No more Marlboro Man, no successors to Joe Camel, no more colorful packaging," Kessler writes, adding, "Dismantling is the only appropriate way to handle an industry that has engaged in the greatest of conspiracies and, in the process, knowingly put the nation's health at risk." Kessler also said that the government should use any profits resulting from cigarette sales to establish a fund to pay liability claims and finance programs to curb youth smoking (Kaufman, Washington Post, 1/7). "Although nicotine and cigarettes have to remain available, you can't ethically and morally continue to allow companies to make a profit," he said (Cimons, Los Angeles Times, 1/7). During his tenure as FDA commissioner, Kessler "created a political firestorm" -- claiming FDA authority to regulate cigarettes as a "medical device" that delivered the drug nicotine -- but the Supreme Court "narrowly" overruled the decision last year (Kaufman, Washington Post, 1/7). Kessler's book, "A Question of Intent: A Great American Battle with a Deadly Industry," describes the FDA's five-year investigation, which "uncovered" some of the tobacco industry's "deepest secrets" (Neergaard, AP/Houston Chronicle, 1/6). Set for release tomorrow, the book also offers "rare personal glimpses" of the FDA's evolving policy that prompted President Clinton to call smoking a "pediatric disease" and lend his support to a "full-scale assault" on the industry (Los Angeles Times, 1/7).
The FDA's investigation -- which included "poring over" thousands of internal industry documents and holding "clandestine meetings" with "nervous secrets informants" such as "Deep Cough" -- revealed a "clear picture" of Big Tobacco "managing the social climate for tobacco over the last 50 years and scheming to defraud the American people," Kessler said, adding, "There was a script" (Los Angeles Times, 1/7). Among the findings, the FDA discovered that tobacco companies manipulated nicotine levels in cigarettes with "reconstituted" tobacco and used ammonia to boost the impact of nicotine. In the book, Kessler also recounts a discussion with a former Philip Morris chemical engineer who had developed a "carcinogen-free" cigarette in the 1980s, a product that the tobacco company "chose not to pursue."
Despite his warnings, Kessler "does not expect" the incoming administration to "embrace" his recommendations or even oppose the industry "in general." He said, "It might take a decade or more, and the industry will certainly fight to keep selling tobacco. But ultimately, the country can't continue letting tobacco companies sell an addictive product that can kill" (Washington Post, 1/7). "Every cigarette sold increases their liability. Tobacco is no longer an asset," Kessler added (Los Angeles Times, 1/7). While Philip Morris declined to comment on Kessler's proposal to dismantle the industry, company Communications Director Peggy Roberts said, "The type of regulation we are calling for includes many of the specific things that Kessler advocated when he was commissioner." Some antitobacco advocates, however, have expressed concerns that Kessler's recommendations could "undermine the continuing campaign to enact strict tobacco regulation," as industry defenders may now "argue that the former FDA head always had broader goals than regulating cigarettes (Washington Post, 1/7).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.