The following is a statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids:
New disclosure documents filed this week show the big tobacco companies are spending huge sums and hiring an army of lobbyists to influence Congress and the Trump Administration, including giving $1.5 million to President Trump’s inauguration.
It’s no secret what the tobacco companies want: They’re waging a multi-pronged assault on a new rule the Food and Drug Administration issued last year for electronic cigarettes and cigars – products that are sold in a huge assortment of sweet flavors and threaten to hook a new generation of kids. If draining the swamp of special interests is to mean anything, it should start with protecting America’s kids and not the tobacco industry.
The new disclosure documents reveal the tobacco industry is going all out to get its way:
- The two largest US tobacco companies, Altria and Reynolds American, gave $500,000 and $1 million respectively to President Trump’s inauguration, according to disclosure reports just filed with the Federal Election Commission. Reynolds is one of only a handful of companies that gave at the $1 million level.
- In the first quarter of 2017 alone, tobacco companies and trade associations spent more than $4.7 million on federal lobbying, including $2.3 million by Altria, $1.3 million by Philip Morris International and $589,848 by Reynolds American. Lobbying disclosure filings show Altria has hired at least 17 lobbying firms and Reynolds hired at least 13 such firms. Altria recently added a former chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to its stable of lobbyists, while Reynolds added a former deputy chief of staff to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price when he was a member of Congress.
In Congress, tobacco companies are pushing two bills that would greatly weaken FDA oversight of e-cigarettes and cigars and protect tobacco companies’ ability to market candy-flavored products that are so enticing to kids. Tobacco lobbyists and their congressional allies are working to insert these harmful provisions in the spending bill Congress must pass by April 28 to keep the government open:
- One bill (H.R. 1136) would “grandfather” e-cigarettes and cigars already on the market, including the many sweet-flavored products introduced in recent years, and exempt them from FDA review, including whether they appeal to kids. This bill would make it much harder for the FDA to limit the sale or marketing of these products and, by making current products the industry standard, much easier for tobacco companies to continue marketing products in kid-friendly flavors like cotton candy and cherry crush.
- The second bill (S. 294/H.R. 564) would completely exempt so-called “large and premium cigars” from FDA oversight, but defines such cigars so broadly that it could end up exempting cheap, machine-made, flavored cigars that are widely used by kids.
The big tobacco companies are behind these efforts. The New York Times has reported that Altria drafted the first of these bills and that it was endorsed by R.J. Reynolds. The Times reported that the bill as initially introduced “pulled verbatim from the industry’s draft.” Reynolds and Altria make two of the best-selling e-cigarette brands in the US (Vuse and MarkTen).
Fifty-one leading public health and medical groups recently wrote Congress to urge rejection of these harmful measures.
In addition to this legislative attack, e-cigarette and cigar interests have filed several lawsuits against the FDA’s rule. While the Department of Justice under the Obama Administration vigorously defended the rule, the Justice Department under the Trump Administration recently filed a motion requesting an extension “to more fully consider the issues raised.” The government’s counsel on the motion included Chad Readler, the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division, who previously represented R.J. Reynolds when he was a partner at the Jones Day law firm.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other public health groups recently urged the Justice Department to recuse any lawyers who represented tobacco companies from any tobacco-related litigation while serving in the government, specifically mentioning Mr. Readler and Noel Francisco, the nominee for Solicitor General, who long represented R.J. Reynolds in tobacco litigation while at Jones Day.
Congress must reject the tobacco industry’s efforts to weaken FDA oversight of e-cigarettes and cigars, and the Trump Administration must continue to vigorously defend the FDA’s authority. They should side with America’s kids, not the tobacco industry.
Background on E-Cigarettes and Cigars
While the US has reduced youth cigarette smoking rates to record lows, efforts to reduce overall youth tobacco use have been undermined by the popularity of e-cigarettes and cigars, which are marketed in a wide array of sweet flavors that attract kids. Studies have found more than 7,700 e-cigarette flavors and 250 cigar flavors – including flavors like gummy bear, cotton candy and cherry crush for e-cigarettes and sticky sweets, tropical twist and banana smash for cigars (for details, see our recent report, The Flavor Trap).
Current e-cigarette use among high school students increased from 1.5% in 2011 to 16% in 2015, surpassing use of regular cigarettes, according to the government’s National Youth Tobacco Survey. Another national survey, the 2016 Monitoring the Future survey, showed the first evidence of a decline in youth use of e-cigarettes, but e-cigarettes continue to be the most-used tobacco product among kids. In addition, more high school boys now smoke cigars than cigarettes (14% vs. 11.8% in the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey).
Both cigars and e-cigarettes pose significant health risks. According to the National Cancer Institute, cigar smoking causes cancer of the lung, oral cavity, larynx and esophagus.
A 2016 Surgeon General’s report on e-cigarettes concluded that e-cigarette use among youth and young adults “is now a major public health concern.” The report warned that youth use of nicotine in any form is unsafe, can cause addiction and can harm the developing brain. The report also found that e-cigarette use is “strongly associated” with the use of other tobacco products among youth and young adults, including conventional cigarettes.
(Source: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids)