Philip Morris USA Says FDA Denied Request To Remove Tobacco-Panel Members

Fri, 04/30/2010 - 4:58am

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Cigarette maker Philip Morris USA says the Food and Drug Administration denied its request to remove four members of its tobacco-products advisory panel that the company said had conflicts of interest.

Altria Group Inc., Philip Morris' parent company, said in its quarterly report filed Thursday that the nation's largest tobacco company objected to four voting members of the committee. The company said the members had financial and other conflicts, including having served as paid experts for plaintiffs in litigation against tobacco companies.

Philip Morris USA's targets included the committee's chairman, Dr. Jonathan Samet, director of the University of Southern California's Institute for Global Health and former director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at Johns Hopkins University.

The members have "disqualifying conflicts and biases arising from their active and zealous participation" in lawsuits "designed to destroy the tobacco industry," Denise Keane, executive vice president and general counsel for Altria, said in a letter to the FDA dated March 22.

The FDA denied the request to remove the members of the committee, but said it would continue to screen members for potential conflicts of interest on topics the committee would be considering.

FDA spokesman Kathleen Quinn said the agency followed existing law and procedure to recruit the best scientific experts and to ensure that the committee has a "balanced composition of expertise to handle the many complex tobacco related issues it will face."

The committee, which met for the first time last month, is tasked with advising the agency on a range of issues, including menthol cigarettes and dissolvable tobacco. Seven members are health professionals, one represents state governments and one the general public. It also includes three nonvoting members representing the tobacco industry.

The FDA won the authority in June to regulate tobacco including banning certain products, limiting allowable nicotine and blocking labels such "low tar" and "light" meant to convey that certain products are less harmful.

The law doesn't let the FDA ban nicotine or tobacco, just regulate what goes into tobacco products, require the ingredients be publicized and limit how tobacco is marketed, especially to young people.

Altria and Philip Morris USA, which makes the top-selling Marlboro brand, supported the law that created the panel.

But its chief rivals — No. 2 Reynolds American Inc., parent company of R.J. Reynolds, and No. 3 Lorillard, both based in North Carolina — opposed the law saying it would lock in Altria's share of the market because its size gives it more resources to comply with regulations and limits on marketing under the law.



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