WASHINGTON – Health groups filed petitions with the Food and Drug Administration Tuesday urging the agency to regulate tobacco products the activists say are marketed as safer alternatives to regular cigarettes.
The Supreme Court ruled last year the FDA did not have the authority to regulate tobacco products, but the health groups argue the agency can require tobacco companies that make health claims to provide scientific evidence.
If they cannot back up their claims, the FDA could order the companies to pull their ads, the petitioners say.
``Our purpose in filing these petitions is that a number of tobacco companies have tried to take advantage of the Supreme Court decision to make unproven health claims about their products based on the premise FDA wouldn't act,'' said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
The group filed petitions against Vector Tobacco Ltd. and Brown & Williamson for marketing new brands as reduced risk products. The ads say the cigarettes have less carcinogens than older brands.
``The reality is they have no evidence,'' Myers said.
Brown & Williamson Spokesman Mark Smith said his company, based in Louisville, Ky., does not make health claims about its new Advance Lights cigarette.
``We go out of the way to say there's not enough medical information to know if Advance, with less toxins, will lower health risks,'' Smith said.
But, by stating that the cigarettes have less toxins, the companies are ``definitely appealing to concerns about people's health,'' said Edward L. Sweda, senior attorney at the Tobacco Control Resource Center at Northeastern University in Boston. ``Certainly a very strong case can be made that they are making health claims.''
The anti-smoking advocates also argue the Supreme Court decision did not prohibit the FDA from regulating nontraditional products containing nicotine or tobacco.
They filed a petition against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. calling for regulation of its Eclipse cigarette. The groups argue Eclipse is not a true cigarette, because it heats tobacco rather than burning it. Therefore, it is a ``nicotine-delivery system'' that can be regulated as a medical device, the groups argue.
Petitions also were filed against the companies Star Scientific and S.F. Garret for making mint-flavored tobacco lozenges and nicotine water. Both are marketed as products smokers can use in places where cigarettes are banned.
Myers says the gum and water should be regulated as a drug or food. He says the agency's authority to regulate these products is no different from the FDA's ability to regulate smoking cessation products such as nicotine gum.
Other groups that joined the petition effort included the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Legacy Foundation, American Lung Association and American Medical Association.