Surgeon General Richard Carmona Supports Ban on Tobacco Products
Surgeon General Richard Carmona yesterday told members of the House Energy and Commerce Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee that he supports "banning or abolishing tobacco products," the Washington Post reports. In response to a question by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), Carmona said that he would support a ban on tobacco products but did not state whether he would support legislation that would impose a ban. "If Congress chose to go that way, that would be up to them," Carmona said, adding, "But I see no need for any tobacco products in society" (Kaufman, Washington Post, 6/4). Several surgeons general have cautioned against smoking since the 1964 Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health found that smoking causes cancer and other diseases, but statements that Carmona made yesterday in support of a ban on tobacco products "stepped up his predecessors' use of the bully pulpit," the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports (Mitchell, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6/4). According to the Post, the statements "startled" lawmakers from tobacco states. In addition, Bush administration officials "quickly distanced themselves" from Carmona's statements, which they said represented his views as a physician rather than the position of the administration. "This is not the policy of the administration," White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said adding, "The president supports efforts to crack down on youth smoking and we can do more as a society to keep tobacco away from kids. That's our focus" (Washington Post, 6/4).
Meanwhile, a separate hearing before the House Government Reform Committee yesterday "produced strong hints" that lawmakers may introduce legislation to allow the FDA to regulate tobacco products, CongressDaily/AM reports (Rich, CongressDaily/AM, 6/4). At the hearing, committee members reviewed the effect of tobacco products on public health and considered a regulatory structure to ensure the development of products that would provide tobacco users with less dangerous sources of nicotine than conventional cigarettes. Congress may pass a bill this session to allow the FDA to regulate tobacco products, a move supported by Republican lawmakers and Philip Morris USA (California Healthline, 6/3). The extent to which the federal government should encourage tobacco companies to "develop and market products that have a reasonable prospect of reducing the risk of tobacco-related disease" could become an important issue in such legislation, committee Chair Thomas Davis (R-Va.) said. Mike Szymanczyk, chair of Philip Morris, said at the hearing that the company "strongly supports legislation that would provide the FDA with comprehensive, meaningful and effective authority to regulate tobacco products" (CongressDaily/AM, 6/4). The statements by Philip Morris mark a reversal of "long-held opposition" that the company has had to FDA regulation of tobacco products, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. Szymanczyk said that FDA regulation "could more effectively enable Philip Morris to market two new tobacco products ... that could be less harmful to smokers" than conventional cigarettes, the AP/Sun reports (Zuckerbrod, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/30). However, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the committee, raised some concerns about the new tobacco products. He cited the case of "light" and low-tar cigarettes, which he said are "just as dangerous as regular brands." Waxman cited a National Cancer Institute study that found "no convincing evidence that light and low-tar cigarettes provide any health benefit" (CongressDaily/AM, 6/4).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.