Tobacco industry wary of new law

Legislation approved by the House on Wednesday to give the Food and Drug Administration regulatory control over tobacco products fails to address the massive market changes of the last decade, growers and others say.

Cigarette makers no longer claim nicotine isn't addictive or that their products aren't harmful, and the bill doesn't take that into account. It also doesn't acknowledge scientific advances in the potential for “reduced-harm” products, an advocate said.

Scott Ballin, health and tobacco consultant with the Alliance for Health, Economic and Agriculture Development, said lawmakers are ignoring these issues because they complicate the bill.

“They want to see it in simple terms: Big Tobacco bad, FDA good,” he said.

The bill “raises the bar extremely high to ever allow lower-risk products onto the markets,” Ballin said.

While the FDA could demand reduction or elimination of cancer-causing chemicals, manufacturers could not introduce or market lower-risk products without first proving such claims with decades-long population studies, according to a 2007 analysis by the Royal College of Physicians.

That won't create much incentive to develop such products, Ballin said.

And those could benefit Kentucky farmers the most, said Roger Quarles, president of the Lexington-based Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association.

“What we've looked for on FDA all along is if it has to happen, we hope there would be opportunities for products to be introduced that would be ‘safer,' and this pretty much eliminates that,” Quarles said.

Will Snell, University of Kentucky agricultural economist and tobacco market expert, said that farmers in general are not as fearful of FDA regulation as they were in the 1990s, when “Keep the FDA off the Farm” signs hung in warehouses.

“While the regulation is at the manufacturer level, growers realize it will affect production practices,” Snell said. While regulation generally involves increased costs, it could put U.S. growers in a better competitive position if foreign producers can't adjust to any new demands, he said.

Ellen Hahn, director of the Kentucky Tobacco Policy Research Program in UK's College of Nursing, said the bill would prohibit health claims about lower-risk products and she supports that.

“I don't think there are (tobacco) products that are better for you,” she said. Such advertising discourages users from quitting and encourages new users who are misled into thinking what they are doing isn't harmful, she said.

“I'm not interested in marketing products that kill people,” Hahn said.