|Press Release WHO/26
26 April 1999
CIGARETTES SHOULD BE REGULATED LIKE OTHER DRUGS, SAYS DIRECTOR-GENERAL
The World Health Organization (WHO) today called on international food and drug regulators to bring cigarettes and tobacco industry products under the same ambit of rules that govern the sales and promotion of other nicotine delivery devices.
"A cigarette is a euphemism for a cleverly crafted product that delivers just the right amount of nicotine to keep its user addicted for life before killing the person," WHO Director General Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland told a key meeting of international drug regulators in Berlin today. WHO said the product should be judged for what it is, not what it is made out to be by the tobacco industry.
''The tobacco companies will inevitably tell you they are selling a simple agricultural product chopped up tobacco leaves rolled into a paper tube. This is categorically untrue. Cigarettes are one of the most highly engineered consumer products available the problem is the product itself,'' Dr. Brundtland told the Ninth International Conference of Drug Regulatory Authorities (ICDRA).
WHO's pitch is significant. This is the first time the world's premier health agency is calling food and drug regulators whose remit it is to examine everything from chewing gum to pharmaceuticals to ensure public health safety standards - to rationalize rules that govern all forms of nicotine consumption. Tobacco control experts say it does not stand to reason that harmful nicotine from cigarettes is available freely while prescriptions are necessary for therapeutic nicotine sold by pharmaceuticals. As cigarette companies diversify, the incongruity increases. Food sold by tobacco companies is regulated but their cigarette brands are not. At one point, in 1890, tobacco was included in the US Pharmacopia but, after intense lobbying of Congress by tobacco manufacturers, it was excluded from the purview of the US Food and Drug Administration, which was created in 1906 with jurisdiction over those products listed in Pharmacopia.
WHO is now calling on that omission to be rectified.
Dr Brundtland said the WHO would soon convene a high-level meeting of international regulators to assess the extent to which the tobacco industry had subverted science and used false advertising and promotional tactics to veil nicotine addiction as an act of free choice. She quoted a senior scientist at Philip Morris to show there was nothing innocent about a cigarette. According to the scientist, ''The cigarette should not be construed as a product but a package. The product is nicotine. Think of the cigarette pack as a storage container for a day's supply of nicotine. Think of the cigarette as a dispenser for a dose of nicotine. Think of a puff of smoke as a vehicle of nicotine.''
Dr Brundtland also pointed out that the tobacco industry uses the camouflage of ''light'' cigarettes to fool smokers into believing they are consuming less dangerous products. An industry which does not respect life and works by rules that are its own and barred from scrutiny ''shamefully uses this misperception to exploit health concerns as a marketing opportunity, '' she added.
A cigarette is the only consumer product which, when consumed as indicated, kills. Tobacco kills 4 million people today, over 70% of them in the developing world. In the first quarter of the next century, tobacco industry products will kill 10 million people, many of them in the prime of their lives. The decision to smoke is enhanced by advertising. The addictiveness of tobacco and its sales and promotion tactics severely handicap people's freedom to make informed decisions.
WHO is calling on the regulators, on whom lies the responsibility of ensuring that food and drugs meet public health standards, to turn their attention to tobacco which, in the next century, will emerge as the single most important public health hazard. The high point of WHO's contribution to global tobacco control will come through the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), on which preliminary work has begun. The Convention will address the entire gamut of tobacco related issues ranging from taxes to epidemiology, advertising bans and smuggling. WHO is calling for a synchronization of national plans and international action so that tobacco control takes root and spreads.
''Governments must push for the inclusion of effective tobacco content and design controls in the protocols to the FCTC,'' Dr Brundtland said. "The time for meaningful and integrated tobacco control is now.
For further information, journalists can contact Gregory Hartl, Office of Press and Public Relations, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (41 22) 791 44 58. Fax (41 22) 791 48 58. E-Mail: email@example.com
All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features as well as other information on this subject can be obtained on Internet on the WHO home page http://www.who.int