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Smoke Screen

Slate  Thursday, July 25, 2002

 

Why is Philip Morris supporting FDA regulation of cigarettes?

Philip Morris, the nation's largest cigarette manufacturer and historically a leading opponent of tobacco regulation, has broken with the rest of the industry and is embracing the government intervention it has spent decades fighting.

Next week, Senate health committee Chairman Ted Kennedy, a longtime Philip Morris nemesis, is holding hearings on a bill that would put cigarettes under the oversight of the Food and Drug Administration. In a shift that has surprised both allies and opponents, Philip Morris lobbyists say they are eager to see the Kennedy bill move forward. Philip Morris believes in "soup to nuts regulation of the entire industry, and we think that the FDA should be involved in all of that," says chief legislative counsel Mark Berlind. He says the company wants to see federal oversight of cigarette ingredients, warning labels, manufacturing, and marketing-with, he adds, a few limitations. But more on that later.

Philip Morris' flip-flop has left the rest of the tobacco industry feeling confused, angry, and jilted. "They are impenetrable to me. Their strategy is impenetrable, their positions are impenetrable," says a veteran lobbyist for one of the cigarette makers opposing FDA regulation, who spoke on the condition his name not be used. "I find their positions to be nuts." By endorsing even limited regulation, he says, Philip Morris is opening a Pandora's box.

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