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July/August, 2009

Strange Bedfellows Know How to Win

This past year, there was a strange political coupling in the US when anti-tobacco crusaders willingly joined with Altria (the parent company of Philip Morris, the US spin-off of Philip Morris International as well as John Middleton, Inc.) to lobby for Federal regulation of tobacco. The anti-tobacco crowd got more regulation on the plant they hate, while Philip Morris got more regulation on the industry they love (read: dominate) which, among other things, makes it very very difficult for any new competition to rise. Some might call the strange bedfellows cynical, but a better description might be smart political gaming on both their parts.

However, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the strange coupling of the often-contentious pair of Public Health advocates and the industry. Going back years, there’s been a surprising push from some Public Health folks for less tobacco regulation. Specifically when it came to one product: snus. There is a mountain of studies suggesting that snus do not carry the adverse health risks of traditional combustible cigarette products. There is even evidence that snus can be used as a nicotine delivery product to lure people away from the more risky cigarettes. The industry, for its part, is a business, and would certainly like to have a new product open to it. Their interests are pretty straightforward. For their part, Public Health organizations would like less people to smoke cigarettes. So, logically these same Public Health aficionados who push through legislation like banning smoking in public parks and forcing photos of diseased body parts on cigarettes should be for a product like snus. While snus are currently banned in the European Union, they are making inroads into the US. It may be these same Public Health soldiers who (along with acting EU head, Sweden where, as an exception, snus are allowed) may get snus allowed entry in Europe. (Coincidentally, they’ll have some brand new, and unimpeachable science to back them up, such as the new study which emphatically states that snus pose a far smaller health risk than cigarettes—for more information, see Digest, page 8.) If you want to get something accomplished in politics, you have to work with who you can and allow history to remain just that. Things get done in smoky back rooms, which in this particular case, were likely very well ventilated.

- E. D.

Tobacco International - July/August, 2009

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