Ethics of Tobacco Advisory Committee Goes Up in Smoke

Several groups have requested investigation of, or filed ethics complaints against, members of the FDA’s new Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC). Identified in March 2010, the TPSAC’s twelve members will decide whether even more restrictions should be leveled against tobacco companies to “protect children” and advance the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

Facing a partisan lose-lose decision about tobacco products last year, Congress passed the buck to the FDA, giving it the power to regulate tobacco. The FDA’s committee is now being questioned, though its members do not have ties to tobacco companies, an alliance prohibited by the organizing document. However, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and Americans for Limited Government (ALG), and even Altria, have filed ethics complaints because some of the members have ties to pharmaceutical companies that provide quitting aids to smokers.

The producer of Nicorette gum, GlaxoSmithKline is one of the companies poised to profit from more regulations placed on tobacco. The New York Times quotes Dr. Benowitz,

I really don’t see any conflict. My involvement with pharmaceutical companies is aimed at reducing the risk of smoking, quitting smoking. The aim of the committee is also to reduce the adverse health consequences of tobacco use.

Despite the evidence in violation of conflict of interest laws, the FDA has denied Altria’s request to investigate these and other members of the board. The TPSAC is meeting this week to discuss the ingredients in tobacco products, presumably centering on the hotly debated inclusion of menthol in cigarettes.

The Commonwealth Foundation has researched other recent attacks on the expanding tobacco industry, including proposed tobacco taxes.