Fight Over a 'Safer Cigarette'
TUESDAY, Aug. 22 (HealthSCOUT) -- A product that the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. says may be a safer cigarette is not a cigarette and has not been proven to be safer, says the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids.
"Their allegations are totally unfounded and without merit," counters Reynolds spokesman Seth Moskowitz.
Letters signed by 22 public health organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Cancer Society, ask the Federal Trade Commission to stop RJR from making the safer-cigarette claim until government-funded tests are done. The letters also ask the Food and Drug Administration to regulate what it calls "a novel drug delivery system designed to deliver nicotine."
The product is Eclipse, first introduced in Tennessee in 1996, now being test-marketed in Texas and available by telephone and direct mail in 37 states. It is being sold "with the claim that Eclipse may present less risk of cancer, chronic bronchitis and possibly emphysema, compared with other cigarettes," Moskowitz says.
Eclipse contains tobacco that has been processed so that ingredients such as nicotine are present in carefully measured amounts. The tobacco is not burned directly; instead, there is a carbon heat source at its tip that, when lit, heats the blend of tobacco to make smoke.
Those differences are enough to move Eclipse outside the definition of a cigarette, says Matthew Meyers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. That is an important point, because the U.S. Supreme Court this year ruled that the FDA does not have jurisdiction over traditional tobacco products such as cigarettes.
Meyers says the government should step in "both because this is not a traditional tobacco product and because RJR is making unprecedented health claims concerning this product. This is a very dangerous advertising campaign that says to smokers that there is an alternative to quitting that significantly reduces health risks. The clear impact will be to provide a safe haven to some people who might otherwise have quit, believing they had no other realistic choice."
About 48 million adults are smokers in the United States, according the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The habit is linked to various diseases. For instance, smokers have double the risk of having a silent stroke compared to people who never smoked.
But Moskowitz maintains that tests done by a company-appointed panel of nine scientists and doctors show that Eclipse may reduce the risk of smoking. Test results have been given to the FDA and FTC and will be published later this year in an established science journal, he says.
Those tests can't be trusted, Meyers says, because RJR "collected the scientists and collected the tests, with no independent government oversight and review." Only such government-supervised tests can provide trustworthy results, he says.
The fight over Eclipse is the latest round in a running argument about safe tobacco products. Twelve years ago RJR introduced Premier, a smokeless cigarette that was claimed to be safer than regular cigarettes. Premier was taken off the market when anti-tobacco groups asked for FDA regulation of the product.
"Some groups believe that prevention and cessation are the only approaches to the tobacco problem," Moskowitz complains.
Exactly so, says Meyers, and "this campaign is about keeping more people smoking."
"This is not the first time that the tobacco industry has introduced a new product that was publicized as being safer," he says. "This is a more sophisticated version of the ideas of filters and low-tar cigarettes, both of which resulted in millions of people continuing to smoke and no appreciable health benefits."
What To Do
Smoking is proven to be linked to such diseases as lung cancer, emphysema and a host of other ailments. If you're a smoker, talk to your doctor about the long-term effects continuing this habit will cause.
For information try the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site, which includes tips, the surgeon general's report, links, how to quit and much more.
For a look at both sides of the question, here's what R.J. Reynolds has to say about Premier and Eclipse. You can also go to its more deluxe Eclipse site, but be prepared to fork over a lot of personal information and your credit card number (they say it's for identification purposes). If you want reasons not to smoke, check out this extensive cigarette site at the American Heart Association. You can even read the FDA-Supreme Court reports here, but you need Adobe Acrobat to read them.