Safer Cigarettes?

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Cigarette manufacturers have always argued that they produce just another ordinary, legal, consumer product. One manufacturer, Philip Morris, has a long-running advertisement which displays cigarettes in a shopping cart chock full of its other in-house merchandise: Jello, Miracle Whip, Kraft Ranch salad dressing, Velveeta and Marlboros. Such a display is about as homogeneous as the scene in E.T. in which the alien attempts to blend into a cluster of teddy bears and other stuffed animals.

Consider the new ads for Omni cigarettes that boast of containing "reduced carcinogens". Omni promises to be "the first premium cigarette created to significantly reduce carcinogenic PAHs, nitrosamines, catechols, and organics [whatever "organics" are]. which are the major cause of lung cancer in smokers."

The problem here is that neither Vector Tobacco, the manufacturers of Omni, nor anyone else knows exactly what it is in a cigarette which so spectacularly elevates cancer risk. Given that the full spectrum of cancers caused by smoking (besides lung cancer, cigarettes are causally related to cancer of the throat, esophagus, pancreas, bladder, colon, cervix, certain forms of leukemia, and more), the causal mechanism most likely involves a myriad of as yet unidentified interactive factors. Furthermore, cancer is only one of many health risks incurred by smokers (for example, heart disease kills far more smokers than lung cancer). Omni's inference that its product is safe is completely without scientific basis.

Can you imagine strolling the aisles of your supermarket and seeing cans of soup, boxes of cereal, and cartons of milk that bragged that they caused less cancer than their competitors? We live in a regulatory environment where otherwise benign chemicals that increase tumors in rodents when consumed in enormous doses are exorcised "at the drop of a rat." But in this same regulatory environment, cigarettes can compete with each other over which one is marginally less likely to give you lung cancer. Are cigarettes just another legal product? No, compared to the legal treatment given other products, cigarettes are supralegal they are a product that is above the law.

Responses:

February 13, 2002

Ms. Whelan:

I had a chance to read your editorial commentary. It was wonderful! I couldn't agree more these dangerous products are supralegal indeed!

Yesterday I happened to be watching a PBS _Nova_ TV program on the development of safer automobiles. I find it intriguing that this is another ubiquitous item of our modern society that even when used properly can be inherently dangerous in an accident. Yet, slowly but surely, the regulatory framework has been put in place that now requires extensive testing, safety standards, and enforcement procedures, including regular product recalls. If we can require that of car manufacturers, you would think that we could at least do the same for a product that not only endangers the user but everyone else in the vicinity of the user.

Best wishes to you in your effort to inform the public about the danger of smoking and your effort to help change the attitudes of society towards smoking.

Hubert H. Humphrey III
Former Minnesota Attorney General
Senior Vice President/Public Affairs Counsel GCI Tunheim