Friday, May 7, 2010

Looking at Tobacco Through a Microscope: FDA Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee

CAMEL (TM) Tobacco Flakes 10X by spike55151.
Photo Credit: spike55151CAMEL (TM) Tobacco Flakes 10X

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act or FDA regulation of tobacco (or authority over tobacco) requires that a scientific advisory committee is set-up to investigate a number of issues related to tobacco. The Scientific Advisory Committee is perhaps one of the more controversial elements of the FDA regulations, both from public health, but also from Big Tobacco. This committee is charged with investigating the following areas:

  • The impact of the use of menthol in cigarettes on the public health, including such use among children, African Americans, Latinos, and other racial and ethnic minorities
  • The nature and impact of the use of dissolvable tobacco products on the public health, including such use on children
  • The effects of the alteration of nicotine yields from tobacco products and whether there is a threshold level below which nicotine yields do not produce dependence on the tobacco product involved
  • Any application submitted by a manufacturer for a modified risk tobacco product
The first three tasks are fairly straightforward and are certainly hot button issues in tobacco control right now. The last area of inquiry is more broad and delves into the recent trend that the industry has made in creating "reduced harm products." The application for modified risk could be something like the use of the word "light." The committee must find that the product does indeed carry less risk in order to use words which previously could simply be applied without any scientific backing. 

Just last week the FDA denied a request from Phillip Morris (Altria, Inc.) to remove certain panelists due to financial conflicts and "irreconcilable biases." Admittedly Big Tobacco requesting the removal of certain "biased" scientists is ironic given there will also be three tobacco industry representatives. Are industry representatives not biased?

At any rate, Altria was concerned about the appointment of Neal Benowitz, Gregory Connolly, Jack Henningfield and Jonathan Samet. Some concerns raised were related to panelists being paid for expert witness testimony in tobacco related litigation, or potential ties to pharmaceutical companies. 
While tobacco industry representatives will be non-voting, according the the FDA's own FAQ about this advisory committee, it is common to have industry representatives present on these types of committees. 

To learn more about the group of scientists brought together by the FDA to explore the issues outlined above click here. 

To learn more about the committee and its roles click here

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