In D.C., Prof Faults Tobacco Companies

A Harvard professor testified in front of a Senate committee yesterday to support proposed legislation further regulating the tobacco industry, which he said has been increasing the levels of nicotine in their products over the past nine years.

Professor of the Practice of Public Health Gregory N. Connolly spoke before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in favor of granting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory authority over tobacco products.

In his testimony, Connolly—who was recruited by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy ’54-’56 (D-Mass.) to speak yesterday—stated that tobacco companies had increased the levels of nicotine in tobacco products by 12 percent between 1997 and 2006.

In written testimony presented yesterday, Connolly argued that tobacco companies are being aggressive in their attempts to continue to market and increase the addictive qualities of their products.

Connolly wrote that these efforts are manifested in the forms of changes in the chemical content and nicotine delivery mechanisms of cigarettes, and increasingly targeted advertising campaigns by the industry.The testimony was based on a study published last month, in which Connolly looked at the tobacco companies’ marketing methods—particularly their targeting of youth and minority populations.

A statement about the bill appearing on Kennedy’s Web site states that the legislation seeks to break the “gruesome cycle [of addiction] that seduces millions of teenagers.” The release goes on to state that the federal government must take on the task of regulating the industry’s actions. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Howard K. Koh, who also co-authored the study, is hopeful that the legislation will pass despite these potential hurdles.

“We need to shed light on an area that has been shrouded in secrecy for so long,” he said. “This is a bipartisan issue—actually, a nonpartisan issue.”

Connolly said the legislation, which has the backing of cigarette maker Philip Morris, is expected to face opposition in Washington from some members of Congress and tobacco lobbyists. Some Republicans argued yesterday that the FDA was not the proper agency to regulate the tobacco industry, according to news reports.But with control of Congress having shifted to the Democrats, supporters of the bill are optimistic.

“The chances [of passage] are pretty good this year,” Connolly said.

However, Connolly said, tobacco interests in the committee and in Congress may present obstacles for the bill’s advocates even in light of the recent changes.

“At the federal level we value more the economic interest in the industry. More so than years before,” Connolly said.