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2-Plants: Low-nicotine (GE) tobacco under U.S. States' scrutiny

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  States target 'safer' tobacco products
SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal, by Vanessa O'Connell/ Deleware Online,
both USA
DATE:   23 May 2004

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States target 'safer' tobacco products

Some state authorities are opening a new front on the war against
tobacco. Their target: the burgeoning market for so-called reduced-harm
cigarettes and tobacco products.

Attorneys general in at least 10 states are investigating whether
marketing claims for these products - which position themselves as safer
or less addictive than traditional smokes - may be misleading or
deceptive. Though the inquiries are still preliminary, the probes are
raising questions about the new breed of potentially less-hazardous
cigarettes just as more are about to hit the market.

During the past five months, three states have asked R.J. Reynolds
Tobacco Holdings Inc. to turn over internal documents about its Eclipse
cigarette, which claims it "may present less risk of cancer" than
traditional cigarettes. Earlier this month, assistant attorneys general
from at least four states held discussions with Vector Group Ltd., whose
Quest cigarettes imply they can help wean smokers from their addiction to

"Claims for 'safer' cigarettes and tobacco products open new and perilous
pitfalls for consumers," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard
Blumenthal. The claims, not subject to government preapproval, are
"highly dubious," he said.

The inquiries come as Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris USA prepares to
launch a highly anticipated "reduced exposure" cigarette - one designed
to potentially reduce smokers' exposure to the harmful compounds found in
cigarette smoke. Philip Morris isn't part of the states' probe since its
cigarette has yet to be released. But Brendan McCormick, a spokesman for
Philip Morris USA, confirmed that the company voluntarily shared some
general information about the new product, code-named SCOR (for "Smoke
Constituent Reduction"), with state attorneys general last fall.

Manufacturers have rolled out several versions of reduced-harm cigarettes
over the past two years in an effort to tap the huge population of
smokers anxious to quit, or at least to quell their cravings. Roughly
22.8 percent of U.S. adults, or 46.2 million people, are smokers,
according to the most recent federal government data. Of those, 70
percent would like to quit, and more than 40 percent had tried to quit
during the preceding year, government survey data show.

One question raised by state officials is whether enough scientific
evidence exists to support the marketing claims. Some of the new
cigarettes are made with genetically altered tobacco, which is said to
reduce or eliminate nicotine. Others use a manufacturing process that
purports to strip out certain harmful ingredients. What worries public-
health officials is the notion that smokers may believe the new
cigarettes are healthier, or even a reasonable alternative to quitting,
when it's far too soon to know what, if any, long-term health benefits
the new cigarettes may have.

Currently, cigarette marketers are subject to limited government
oversight. While the Food and Drug Administration must approve new drugs
before they come to market, the FDA does not have such responsibility for
tobacco products.

The Federal Trade Commission, which has jurisdiction over advertising,
could challenge any ads it believes to be misleading to consumers. But
such an inquiry can begin only after an ad has appeared. Even then, anti-
tobacco groups say, the agency has limited jurisdiction to address the
myriad health-related claims raised by the products and their ads.

Scant federal oversight is one reason why states now are investigating
the claims under their own consumer-protection laws. The attorneys
general also are acting now because manufacturers are marketing the
products more heavily than ever, and the Philip Morris launch later this
year will create even more buzz.

Another cause for action: the marketing fallout of "low tar" and "light"
cigarettes a few decades ago. When light and mild cigarettes first hit
the market, many smokers believed they were safer than full-flavor
smokes. Years later, extensive testing showed the cigarettes to be just
as dangerous as regular cigarettes.

R.J. Reynolds, the second-largest U.S. cigarette maker, has strengthened
its marketing for the Eclipse brand this year, boasting that the
cigarettes "may present less risk of cancer, chronic bronchitis, and
possibly emphysema."

Launched nationwide last year, RJR's Eclipse uses a special process to
heat tobacco, rather than burn it, aimed at reducing the smoker's
exposure to some of the harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke. But one
independent test of Eclipse in 2000 found that it produced more carbon
monoxide than did two ultralight brands, Now and Carlton. Carbon monoxide
is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease from cigarette
smoke. A spokeswoman for RJR said the amount of carbon monoxide in the
smoke of each Eclipse cigarette is "comparable to that produced by light
cigarettes currently on the market."

Now, state attorneys general are particularly eager to see Eclipse's
market data, including sales figures and consumer feedback. The Winston-
Salem, N.C., marketer of Camel and Salem cigarettes received civil
subpoenas alleging "false or misleading" marketing from Vermont, Maine
and Connecticut. RJR says it expects to provide the states with 2 million
to 3 million pages of internal corporate documents. "We're pretty
confident that we have solid support for the specific claims that we
make," says Thomas F. McKim, assistant general counsel for RJR.

Vector's Liggett Vector Brands unit also expanded its marketing efforts
for its Quest cigarettes, which use genetically altered tobacco that
contains only trace amounts of nicotine. "Step your way to nicotine-free
smoking," Quest ads proclaim. The problem: the pitch implies that Quest
helps consumers to stop smoking, much like patches and other devices
subject to FDA scrutiny. Quest hasn't received FDA approval as a "smoking
cessation" aid. A Vector spokesman said that the company is working with
the agency to win such approval for Quest.

Melissa Reynolds O'Dea, assistant attorney general for Maine, said the
states haven't issued any subpoenas to Vector, though they haven't ruled
out doing so. "We made it known to all of these companies that we'll be
scrutinizing their campaigns, and taking action where necessary," she said.


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