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NEW YORK -- For those who support Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight of the tobacco industry, the issue is not a matter of if, but when and what shape it will take.
"We're pretty close to an historic point," said Dr. David A. Kessler, dean of the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine. "We're not there yet. We can't let it slip by."
Kessler was one of four panelists speaking on the future of U.S. tobacco policy at a conference Thursday presented by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in New York. He served as FDA Commissioner from November 1990 through March 1997.
Several forces are combining that may make legislation possible, Kessler said. He cited the support of the concept by tobacco industry leader Philip Morris USA as one example. Also, several legislators from tobacco-producing states would like to pass a law aiding tobacco farmers. To date, such legislation has been linked to authorization of FDA regulation, according to Dow Jones.
Only a few issues remain to be resolved, Kessler said. Just last week, the proposed legislation appeared to be making headway in the U.S. Senate when a fragile alliance fell apart. But it is clear that several of the panelists feel FDA regulation remains an important goal for future tobacco policy.
Supporters include Philip Morris USA and UST Inc.
"It would be a real tragedy if we let it slip away," said Steven Parrish, who is senior vice president, Corporate Affairs, at Altria Group Inc., the parent of Philip Morris USA.
Although Philip Morris supports FDA regulation, other tobacco companies including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. do not. Representatives from the companies who oppose FDA oversight weren't among the participants on the panel, which in addition to Kessler and Parrish, included Cheryl Healton, president and chief executive of the American Legacy Foundation, and Richard Verheij, executive vice president, external affairs at UST Inc.'s U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. unit.
UST, of Greenwich, Conn., supports FDA regulation, in part as a way to establish better parameters to market its products. UST believes its smokeless tobacco products offer an alternative to adult smokers who don't wish to quit using tobacco. Studies have shown smokeless tobacco products are less harmful than smoking cigarettes, the report said.
Healton declined to weigh in on the debate over FDA regulation, citing her organization's prohibition against lobbying on political issues.
Separately, Healton asked Philip Morris USA to show its support for youth smoking prevention by continuing to fund her organization's efforts. The American Legacy Foundation was created as a result of a 1998 agreement between state attorneys general and the tobacco industry. The group, which develops programs aimed at addressing the health effects of tobacco, received its last mandated payment from the tobacco industry in April. Although the organization still has funding, the loss of the payments from the tobacco industry poses a challenge for the group.