Friday, November 16, 2007

FTC Wants Out of Cigarette Testing

This posting was written by John Scorza, CCH Washington Correspondent.

During a November 13 hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, the Federal Trade Commission renewed its call to transfer its responsibility to test the tar and nicotine levels of cigarettes to an agency better suited to the task.

Meanwhile, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J) advocated legislation that would curtail the ability of tobacco companies to market their products based on tar and nicotine levels.

The FTC testing method, first approved in 1967, uses a machine to uniformly “smoke” different brands of cigarettes. Using this method, some cigarettes appear to deliver lower tar and nicotine than others. The tobacco industry typically describes the cigarettes as “light” and “low-tar,” with the implicit suggestion that they are not as harmful as regular cigarettes. After concerns arose about the FTC’s testing method, the agency discontinued its use in 1987.

Touching on those concerns, Lautenberg and several witnesses noted that smokers often change the way they smoke light and low-tar cigarettes, inhaling deeper and longer to realize a higher dosage of nicotine.

“The Commission has been concerned for some time that the current test method may be misleading to individual consumers who rely on the ratings it produces as indicators of the amount of tar and nicotine they actually will get from their cigarettes,” FTC Commissioner William Kovacic stated.

The FTC in 1999 and 2003 recommended that Congress should transfer the responsibility to test cigarettes to a federal science-based agency. Kovacic did so again. “Although the Commission brings a strong, market-based expertise to its scrutiny of consumer protection matters, it does not have the specialized scientific expertise needed to design and evaluate scientific test methodologies.”

Lautenberg said he hoped the hearing would build legislative momentum to address the problems associated with the FTC’s nicotine cigarette rating system. The New Jersey senator, as he has in the past, called for an end to the rating system and the end of marketing based on the system.

“Big Tobacco should not be able to hide behind the FTC method to justify the claim that ‘light’ and ‘low-tar’ cigarettes are healthier,” Lautenberg said.

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