US FDA asked to regulate 'reduced risk' cigarettes
WASHINGTON, March 16 (Reuters) - Public health groups asked the Bush administration on Friday to curb the marketing of so-called ``reduced risk'' cigarettes by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., accusing the company of making unsubstantiated health claims.
In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, 22 groups including the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association disputed claims by R.J. Reynolds that its Eclipse cigarettes may present smokers with less risk of cancer and other diseases, and urged the Food and Drug Administration to take action.
The groups cited a February report by the Institute of Medicine (IoM) that found that cigarettes made with modified tobacco or designed to burn at low temperatures do not necessarily deliver on promises to make smoking safer and may even be dangerous.
The Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based tobacco company said it stood by its claims about Eclipse cigarettes, citing both company and independent research.
``Our claim is fully substantiated by an extensive battery of scientific research and we stand behind our claims,'' said R.J. Reynolds Tobacco spokesman Seth Moskowitz.
``The weight of the evidence from this research clearly shows that compared to other cigarettes Eclipse may present smokers with less risk of cancer, chronic bronchitis and possibly emphysema,'' he added.
In their letter to Thompson, public health groups asserted that the FDA has the authority under current law to take action, despite last year's Supreme Court ruling that the administration had overstepped its authority in 1996 when it issued unprecedented, sweeping curbs on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.
``If the FDA fails to act to stop R.J. Reynolds from making health-related claims in light of the findings of the IoM, it is tantamount to a license to Reynolds and other tobacco companies to make unsubstantiated and unproven health claims with impunity and without fear of federal oversight,'' the groups told Thompson. They also sent letters to the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission.
In response to the Supreme Court ruling, anti-smoking activists and their congressional allies have proposed legislation that would classify nicotine as a drug and tobacco products as drug delivery devices. It would also give the FDA the authority to regulate cigarette and smokeless tobacco labeling and advertisements.
But tobacco's critics on Capitol Hill conceded it would be difficult moving the legislation this year. Republican leaders have in the past been reluctant to take up the bill and some have been openly critical of the FDA.