Tobacco Co. Would OK Some Oversight
SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (AP) - An executive with the nation's largest tobacco company said the firm will accept some federal regulation of cigarettes but stopped short of agreeing to regulation of nicotine as a drug.
Tobacco critics have been pushing for such regulation of nicotine as a more effective way to curb underage smoking.
Steven Parrish, senior vice president Philip Morris Cos., said Thursday during a conference on addiction that the maker of top-selling Marlboros would accept some regulation of the composition of cigarettes, including lowering nicotine levels.
But he balked at requiring the amount of nicotine to drop so low that the product would essentially be banned.
During a panel discussion at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Parrish expanded on statements he made earlier this week in which he called for ``discussion about what is the right way to regulate tobacco.''
Parrish said the announcement was prompted by the company's desire to stop smoking among children - even though government regulation could raise production costs and prompt dramatic declines in profits.
''(If) our adult business dries up,'' Parrish said, ``our company is prepared to accept that ... and we will invest our assets in other businesses.''
Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David A. Kessler, also on hand for the addiction conference, called Parrish's announcement ``historic.'' However, he expressed skepticism that Philip Morris was truly open to the necessary regulation.
``I'd like to believe this is a serious first step, but the fact is I have serious questions,'' Kessler said. ``Would you agree to regulating nicotine as a drug? Will you agree to regulation of marketing practices? Will you agree to the removal of harmful ingredients if that is technically possible?''
Parrish acknowledged that nicotine is a drug but stopped short of agreeing that the FDA should regulate nicotine as a drug and cigarettes as drug-delivery devices.
Industry analysts said Philip Morris' concessions may be aimed at improving the company's image among judges and juries presiding over lawsuits filed on behalf of dead or dying smokers.
Meantime, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on whether Congress has given the FDA authority over the tobacco industry.
Philip Morris accounts for one of every two cigarettes sold in the United States.