TOPICS > Health

Smoke Screening

August 23, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: For that side of things we’re joined by Brennan Dawson, senior vice president of the Tobacco Institute, which represents major cigarette manufacturers in the United States. Thank you for joining us. What is your reaction to the regulations we’ve just heard Dr. Kessler describe and that the President announced today?

BRENNAN DAWSON, Tobacco Institute: Well, they’re really two-fold reactions. The first, again, is the industry’s shared goal of reducing youth smoking. We are committed to continuing to support reasonable measures that would reduce youth smoking. And there are a number of things that have been done at the federal level, as well as at the state, and voluntary level that we’ve supported, and additional actions that we could support.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So you agree that there’s an epidemic that needs to have something done about it?

MS. BRENNAN DAWSON: There absolutely is a very serious problem out there. There’s a very serious problem if any child is smoking, and more can and should be done. But on the other hand, we have to look at FDA and the FDA regulations specifically. The FDA is an agency without authority on tobacco products. If we look at the congressional history, on more than 20 occasions, Congress has been presented with bills that would specifically give FDA jurisdiction over tobacco products. Congress has rejected those bills. If we look to the courts and the court history, the legal history, FDA, itself, has argued and the courts have agreed for decades that FDA does not have jurisdiction over tobacco. This is an agency that a year ago in its notice to propose rule-making once again repeated what Dr. Kessler has said time and time again, and that is we, the FDA, have the authority to ban this product, to remove it from the marketplace. So we have to be very concerned about taking this, what can be perceived as this first step on the road to prohibition. That’s a very separate issue in my mind and in the industry’s issues, umm, from reducing youth smoking. So it’s almost like you have to look at them in different camps.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Well, what about Dr. Kessler’s assertion and the President’s today that nicotine is an addictive drug, and therefore, that is the reason why–that is the enabler for the FDA to have jurisdiction?

MS. BRENNAN DAWSON: Again, the FDA’s assertion of jurisdiction is illegal clearly as defined by the congressional history, clearly as defined by the FDA mandate. I mean, cigarette smoking, nicotine by itself is regulated by the FDA in things like nicotine patches, in nicotine gum, in the same way that caffeine is regulated in some ways by the FDA, but not the coffee that you drink in the morning or the cigarette that the smoker might smoke after their coffee.

So you have to really separate those out. And what that all has to do with his health claims. Now cigarettes are marketed without health claims. They’re marketed for smokers, for smoking enjoyment. That’s what smokers get. That’s what–how they’re marketed. That’s the marketing intent behind cigarettes. So FDA can regulate nicotine; it’s a matter of whether or not FDA can regulate cigarettes. Now if we get to the youth smoking, which, again, everyone agrees more can and should be done–

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And excuse me, are you saying that the FDA can’t regulate cigarettes because they’re not addictive, or–I’m not real clear on that.

MS. BRENNAN DAWSON: FDA can’t regulate cigarettes under the Food & Drug Law and under the congressional history and under the court history. So it’s a matter of the difference between nicotine in different products that are sold with a health claim and cigarettes that are sold for smoking pleasure as a consumer product in the same way that coffee with caffeine is. I mean, that’s the basic difference when you have to look at the nicotine issue.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Well, what about his argument, though, that the industry is deliberately targeting young people and how do you respond to that as well as the remedy that the regulations propose?

MS. BRENNAN DAWSON: Well, and that’s why you have to look at youth smoking very differently, because FDA’s not an agency, umm, that’s out there to regulate youth behavior or anything like that. Umm, I mean, Dr. Kessler used the example of Joe the Camel. Well, the federal agency that, in fact, does already regulate tobacco advertising, the Federal Trade Commission under took a three-year study of the Joe the Camel the campaign. At the end of that lengthy, intensive study, they said that, you know, despite intuition, the evidence wasn’t there to support it.

Umm, if you look at the studies that have been done on tobacco advertising here in the United States, you find that kids may be aware of tobacco ads, but they also don’t like tobacco products, they say that tobacco ads don’t make them smoke, and we can then turn to the international experience where many countries have experimented with tobacco advertising bans, and what they’ve found is that youth smoking continues along the same track that it was on before the advertising was removed.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, what is the purpose of advertising, just for clarification, using characters like Joe Camel and others? It’s not to attract the youth market, the younger market?

MS. BRENNAN DAWSON: Advertising doesn’t get kids to smoke. I mean, that’s clear, the President’s Council on Economic Advisers has said that that’s clear; the FTC looking at the Joe the Camel campaign said that was clear. A Canadian court recently said that in overturning a Canadian tobacco advertising ban.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But what about–excuse me, what about that correlation that they made between the increase in revenues put into those ads–he named certain brands of cigarettes a few moments ago–and the correlation with the increase in smoking during that period, do you just reject the connection there?

MS. BRENNAN DAWSON: Well, it’s not surprising that kids smoke the most popular brands of cigarettes. I mean, kids smoke because of peer pressure; kids smoke because of parental and family influences; kids smoke because of the influences in the society around them. So the most popular brands are the most heavily advertised brands because that’s the way marketing works and that’s what kids tend to flock towards. They do what they see other people do. But this FDA rule would do nothing to get at the peer pressure issues, at the parental influences or, or even reducing youth access to tobacco products. So it misses the mark if the real goal is youth smoking.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So you don’t think that by taking the ads off of the T-shirts, by making sure that in the magazines that young people read these ads are not attractive and don’t portray cigarettes as fun and all the other things that he cited a few moments ago are going to make any difference at all?

MS. BRENNAN DAWSON: The tobacco industry more than five years ago, responding to public concerns, took down cigarette billboards from within 500 feet of schools. Umm, you know, the FDA rule goes so much further than that to virtually wipe out tobacco billboards. And kids aren’t smoking because they see a cigarette ad on a billboard. I mean, let’s talk about the magazines. Commissioner Kessler likes to throw out “Rolling Stone.” Umm, but “Rolling Stone” has a very grown-up readership, honestly. This would also affect magazines like “Better Homes and Gardens,” clearly not a youthful publication. “Time Magazine” and “Newsweek” are so close to the 2 million youth readership mark that it would be very difficult to say that in the next two weeks they would not be affected by this act. These are not youthful publications. And this is not children we’re protecting; we’re taking this away from adults.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So how does the industry plan to deal with these regulations at this point?

MS. BRENNAN DAWSON: You know, there has been court challenge that is still underway. We’re not the only ones who’ve challenged this. Advertisers have challenged this. Retailers have challenged this. Smokeless tobacco manufacturers have challenged it. That will continue, legal challenge. We, unfortunately, have to, but in the meantime, umm, we hope that there are reasonable people that we can work with. We’re already working with states and retailers and wholesalers, and to make sure that reasonable efforts take place, um, so while the legal challenge goes on, we’re still committed to being out there and trying to make a difference.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Is this going to make any difference in terms of the way you approach young people?



MS. BRENNAN DAWSON: Umm, you know, these regs don’t deal with the reasons why youngsters smoke. Umm, these regs are very bureaucratic; they’re very cumbersome, umm, you know, we’ll have to pursue the legal challenge.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. We’ll pursue the story. Thank you.