The Federal Trade Commission "is committed to reviewing advertising for reduced risk tobacco products on a case-by-case basis to try to ensure that the information consumers receive about reduced risk products is truthful and non-misleading," stated Timothy J. Muris, Chairman of the FTC, at a hearing before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, U.S. House of Representatives. The testimony notes that tobacco use in the United States continues to cause substantial health risks. "Products that could significantly reduce those risks could provide a substantial health benefit. ... At the same time, consumers may be injured if advertisers make harm reduction claims that turn out to be untrue or that exaggerate the benefits or safety of their products."
The Commission testimony discusses the Commission's mission, its activities in tobacco advertising and marketing, and then addresses the process the Commission would use in examining the advertising of potential reduced risk tobacco products. According to the testimony, the FTC's consumer protection mission is to prevent unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the marketplace. The Commission's jurisdiction over advertising and marketing claims includes authority over claims for cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and other tobacco products. Indeed, the testimony points out that the FTC's law enforcement activities involving tobacco advertising and promotion date back to the 1930s. In 1999 and 2000, the Commission issued consent orders with several cigarette companies, resolving charges that their advertisements implied that their "no additive" cigarettes were less hazardous than otherwise comparable cigarettes. In 2000, the Commission also entered into a consent agreement with a company claiming reduced health risks for its herbal cigarettes.
Congress has also given the Commission administrative responsibilities for the health warnings required for cigarettes under the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act. In addition, the FTC has both administrative and enforcement responsibilities for the health warnings required for smokeless tobacco packaging and advertising under the Comprehensive Smokeless Tobacco Health Education Act of 1986.
In the context of advertising or marketing claims for potential reduced risk products, the Commission would consider whether the harm reduction claims were likely to mislead reasonable consumers using the same legal framework that it uses for all consumer products. Thus, the first question that the Commission would address is what messages consumers take from the advertising in question. This analysis would include consideration of whether claims about a reduction in carcinogens and toxins in the product convey risk reduction messages and whether consumers might take away from a harm reduction claim the message that the product was not just safer but that it poses no risk or only a minimal risk. The next question the Commission would address is whether the conveyed risk reduction claims are truthful and substantiated. In the context of safety claims, the FTC has typically required "competent and reliable scientific evidence" to substantiate the claims.
C. Lee Peeler, Deputy Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, also presented the same testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform.
The views expressed in the written testimony represent the views of the FTC. The oral presentation and responses to questions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Commission or any individual Commissioner. The Commission vote authorizing the testimony was 5-0.
Copies of the testimony are available from the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1 877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
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