USA Today Debates ‘Less Risky’ Cigarettes
Promotions for new brands of cigarettes claiming "[r]educed carcinogens" and "[l]ess of the toxins" are "giving consumers a false sense of security," a USA Today editorial says. While "[r]educing carcinogens" in cigarettes "certainly sounds good," there is "no independent, government check" on the claims, and "no proof that the new cigarettes are less hazardous than others." The products, which include Vector Tobacco's Omni and R.J. Reynolds' Eclipse, may even "increase other harmful ingredients," according to the editorial. The new trend toward "less risky" cigarettes mirrors a "deadly pattern from the 1960s," when the industry responded to the surgeon general's first-ever warning about the dangers of smoking by promoting low-tar cigarettes "as healthier choices." That promotion caused many smokers to switch brands rather than quit, even though, according to a report released two months ago by the National Cancer Institute, switching to low-tar or "light" cigarettes "does not offer any significant protection against lung cancer or other illnesses associated with smoking regular cigarettes." Despite the "scientific findings," the tobacco industry has not stopped "pushing its new generation of supposedly less-risky products," and does not have to face "the scrutiny" of the FDA as long as advertisements do not make "explicit health claims." While several anti-smoking groups filed a petition with the FDA last month saying that the industry is making such claims, "winning will be tough," according to USA Today. The "obvious solution," the editorial says, is for Congress to give the FDA "clear authority to regulate tobacco products." However, Congress "has failed repeatedly to put public health before tobacco-industry wishes." According to the editorial, "until that change happens, cigarette makers are under little pressure to rein in their own advertising or edit their claims about these supposedly less risky products" (USA Today, 1/11).
In a counterpoint opinion piece, Bennet LeBow, chair and CEO of the Vector Group, the company that markets the Omni cigarette, argues that the introduction of "potentially less hazardous cigarettes" is a "logical and important step in the right direction." Although public health advocates "continue to recommend abstinence as the only way to reduce smoking-related illnesses," the "reality" is that abstinence among "the current 50 million U.S. smokers will not happen in the foreseeable future, if ever." According to LeBow, "one sensible and responsible alternative" is to try to manufacture "less hazardous cigarettes." LeBow asks, "[I]f tobacco companies can produce less carcinogenic cigarettes, don't they have a moral and legal obligation to do so?" LeBow concludes: "In order to reduce the death and disease caused by smoking, we believe a meaningful dialogue with the health community and the public is necessary. Any progress toward that goal requires our shared efforts" (LeBow, USA Today, 1/11).