Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Mr. Merkley:

I first want to thank Senator Dodd for his tireless advocacy on this issue.  The need to regulate tobacco products has been evident for years, and for years it has been impossible to accomplish this goal.  It is frankly unbelievable that while we heavily regulate the production and sale of aspirin, a product that is as addictive and destructive as tobacco goes without regulation. 

This bill will go a long way in helping to keep these addictive products out of the hands of our children. This bill gives the FDA the legal authority it needs to reduce youth smoking by preventing tobacco advertising targeting children. It also provides the FDA with the authority to prevent the sale of tobacco products to minors, as well as the authority to prevent the tobacco industry from misleading the public about the dangers of smoking.

Additionally, this bill takes important and much needed steps in providing for the regulation of smokeless tobacco.

We are all familiar with the dangers posed by cigarettes – the health effects have long been documented – both on users and bystanders.  We are also familiar with the steps being taken in many cities and states to rid our public areas of second-hand smoke. 

These actions, thankfully, have been very successful and have lead to a major dilemma for tobacco companies – if smoking becomes socially unacceptable, how can they continue to replace the hundreds of thousands of smokers who die every year?

Their response has been to bet heavily on smokeless tobacco products.

Chewing tobacco has been around for awhile, but has its own limitations when it comes to social acceptability – after all, there aren’t many places outside of this chamber where you can still find a spittoon.  So the tobacco companies are looking for hip, new smokeless tobacco products that don’t require spitting and can appeal to a new generation of kids. 

This picture was taken just a few blocks from the Capitol.  [INDICATE FIRST CHART]  It’s of a new product called “Snus” that RJ Reynolds is selling nationwide.  It’s a flavored, pouched tobacco product that is advertised as not requiring spitting.

As you can see, it’s advertised next to displays of candy and mints.  Its container is not unlike that for mints.  And I should note that this container was not the original design.  As reported by the Portland Oregonian last December, originally Snus came in circular containers more similar to chewing tobacco.  But when teachers at schools noticed these tell-tale containers in students’ pockets, RJ Reynolds redesigned them to look more like cell phones. 

Clearly, these marketing efforts are aimed at young people.  But it gets worse.

Now RJ Reynolds has come out with another product that they are test-marketing in three cities across the country, including Portland, Oregon:  tobacco candy. 

Tobacco candy comes in another one of these classic cell phone shaped containers.  [INDICATE CHART TWO]  They pop open kind of like a pez dispenser and then you get individual candies that come in two flavors – “mellow,” which tastes like caramel, or “fresh,” which tastes like mint.  You suck on them for about 20 minutes and they just dissolve, like a Tic-Tac or other candy.  But this candy is made out of finely ground tobacco.

Both the packaging and the product clearly look like mints or candies.  In fact, just a few days ago, my wife ran across a sample pack I had a home and almost ate one before realizing they weren’t mints.

They are fun, they are easy to hide from parents and teachers, and they are very, very dangerous.

The Indiana Poison Control has estimated that each tobacco candy delivers 60-300 percent the nicotine of a cigarette.  These candies are addictive and they cause cancer.

And unless we pass this bill and give the FDA authority to regulate, soon this tobacco candy will be coming to a convenience store near you.   And we’ll see more displays like the one shown in this photo taken in Portland – tobacco candy advertised right next to ice cream.  [INDICATE THIRD CHART]

And once they’ve mastered the technique of turning tobacco into kid-friendly candy, there is no end to the variety of products the industry could turn out.  Already, RJR is preparing to launch two new forms, “Sticks” which are like toothpicks that you suck on and “Strips” that are nearly identical to those breath mint strips that dissolve on your tongue.  [INDICATE FOURTH CHART]

Everywhere I go and talk about these products, Mr./Madame President, people are outraged.  Meanwhile, the tobacco industry and its champions are trying to justify these flavored products with the kid-friendly marketing as “safer” alternatives to smoking.  Mr./Madame President – this simply isn’t so.  And this rhetoric poses a real danger to consumers who might think smokeless tobacco is harmless when it so clearly is not.

In fact, the Surgeon General has determined that the use of smokeless tobacco can lead to oral cancer, gum disease and the increased risk of heart attacks.  There is also a risk of cancer of the esophagus and stomach. 

This is not a safer tobacco – it is a product that, like cigarettes, when used as directed causes cancer and kills.

Further, it is not a method of helping smokers quit smoking.  The purpose of smokeless tobacco is to allow individuals to continue their addiction to nicotine – or start a new addiction.  The idea that the tobacco companies would actually want to help people quit using their product is laughable, but that’s the argument that is made by too many tobacco proponents.

Unlike Nicorette or the patch, smokeless tobacco doesn’t help you quit – the doses don’t get any lower over time.  As the U.S. Public Health Service Clinical Practice Guideline noted, “The use of smokeless tobacco products is not a safe alternative to smoking, nor is there evidence to suggest that it is effective in helping smokers quit.”

It is no secret that these products are dangerous.  Back in 2003, Surgeon General Richard Carmona talked about what he called the “public health myth” that smokeless tobacco is a good alternative to smoking.  He emphatically said that that simply was not true.  It’s worth quoting him at length:

·“I cannot conclude that the use of any tobacco product is a safer alternative to smoking. This message is especially important to communicate to young people, who may perceive smokeless tobacco as a safe form of tobacco use.   Smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.  Smokeless tobacco does cause cancer.”

That statement comes from a 2003 House hearing on tobacco harm reduction.  And I ask unanimous consent that his entire prepared testimony from that hearing be entered into the record.

It is a travesty that RJ Reynolds can launch an addictive, carcinogenic candy targeted at children with no review from the FDA.  Nicorette – designed to help you quit smoking – had to go to the FDA for approval.  But caramel tobacco candy – designed to hook kids on tobacco – is on the shelves in Portland right now with zero oversight.

This bill will finally bring some transparency and common sense to the regulation of tobacco. Finally, the FDA will be able to address the single greatest public health menace in this country.  I’m pleased that the bill includes an amendment that Senator Brown and I authored to require the Tobacco Advisory Committee to expedite review of tobacco candy.  I look forward to passing this bill, and keeping tobacco candies from store shelves before the industry succeeds in hooking a new generation.