Archive for Sunday, January 7, 2001

Tobacco critic urges dismantling industry

January 7, 2001


— The U.S. tobacco industry should be dismantled and cigarettes should be sold in brown paper wrappers by a corporation created and tightly regulated by Congress, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler concludes in a book to be released this week.

"No more Marlboro Man, no successors to Joe Camel, no more colorful packaging," Kessler writes. "Dismantling is the only appropriate way to handle an industry that has engaged in the greatest of conspiracies and, in the process, knowingly put the nation's health at risk."

As FDA commissioner, Kessler created a political firestorm by claiming FDA authority to regulate cigarettes as a medical device that delivered the drug nicotine a landmark de-cision the Su-preme Court narrowly overturned last year.

But since leaving office in 1997, Kessler has come to the conclusion that even if strong regulations are ultimately passed in Congress, they will not be enough to stem the "manmade epidemic" caused by tobacco smoking. His call for dismantling the tobacco industry goes considerably further than other prominent tobacco critics have gone.

"Considering the number of addicted smokers, nicotine has to remain available," Kessler writes in his book, "A Question of Intent." "But the entire infrastructure that promotes it, and that has such political clout, should not continue to exist."

Kessler said he does not expect the incoming administration to embrace his recommendations, or to oppose the tobacco industry in general.

"It might take a decade or more, and the industry will certainly fight to keep selling tobacco," he said in an interview. "But ultimately, the country can't continue letting tobacco companies sell an addictive product that can kill."

The tobacco industry has often accused Kessler of working to ultimately prohibit cigarettes and tobacco products. The companies have also raised the prospect of bankruptcy from liability lawsuits, especially a $145 billion jury judgment against the industry last year in Florida. But the idea of a congressionally chartered company to actually manufacture and distribute no-frills cigarettes is new.

The Philip Morris Cos. declined to comment on Kessler's call for dismantling the tobacco industry. Communications director Peggy Roberts said, however, that her company does agree that "tough FDA regulation" of the industry is needed. "The type of regulation we are calling for includes many of the specific things that Kessler advocated when he was commissioner," she said.

Some tobacco control activists said they are concerned that Kessler's call for dismantling the tobacco industry could be used to undermine the continuing campaign to enact strict tobacco regulation. They worry that defenders of the industry will use his book to argue that the former FDA head always had goals broader than regulating cigarettes.

Kessler, who is dean of the Yale University School of Medicine, writes that he had no intention of taking on the tobacco issue and the tobacco industry when President George Bush appointed him FDA commissioner in 1990. The book details how he and the FDA came to see nicotine as an addictive drug often through confidential sources from within the tobacco industry and how the agency's efforts to regulate ultimately failed at the Supreme Court.

"Ultimately, cigarettes should be sold in brown paper wrappers, with only a brand name and a warning label," he writes. "Distribution should be tightly controlled to prevent access by children and adolescents."

Any profits, he said, should go into a fund to pay liability claims and fund programs to counter youth smoking.

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