Federal officials are planning new regulations on tobacco products, including those marketed as alternatives to smoking — such as dissolvable tobacco tablets sold by Camel.
But some of the men and women on the government’s official advisory panel have financial ties to the drug companies selling competing products, such as Nicorette. One government adviser even holds a patent for a new nicotine gum.
It’s a full-fledged regulatory rumble between Big Tobacco and the even larger Big Pharma.
Some quick background:
Philip Morris, which controls about half the U.S. cigarette market, is doubling down on smokeless tobacco products, such as chew and snuffs. It has lobbied tirelessly in the past decade for the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco. President Barack Obama signed the bill last June, misleadingly trumpeting it as a triumph over the lobbying efforts of Big Tobacco.
The law creates a Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee that gives the FDA guidance in implementing the new regulations. Now, Philip Morris — the godfather of this law — is raising a fuss about the conflicts of interest littering the committee.
For instance, Jack Henningfield is one of nine voting members on the committee and he’s also one of eight patent-holders of a cutting-edge nicotine gum yet to be commercialized.
Henningfield also is vice president of health policy at a consulting firm that counts drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline as a client. Glaxo holds the license for Nicorette.
Multiple conflicts present themselves here:
As regulations on cigarettes become more restrictive, they become harder to get. This makes them more expensive, increasing market demand for a product like the one held by Henningfield.
But cigarettes are not the real battleground here; cigarette alternatives are.
The committee is looking into the safety of dissolvable tobacco products, such as RJ Reynolds’ Camel Orbs, small tablets that melt in the mouth — a quick fix for a smoking addict stuck on a plane or in a meeting. One committee member, Gregory Connolly, has attacked them for being too candylike, thus appealing to kids.
But is nicotine gum like candy? How about the new mint-flavored Nicorette Mini lozenges?
Camel Orbs may or may not be a real health risk, but they certainly are competition to Nicorette’s gums and lozenges and Henningfield’s patented gum. Yet, our government will count on Henningfield and others in the pay Nicorette’s maker for counsel on how to regulate Camel’s product.
Neal Benowitz, another committee member, also has worked as a consultant to Glaxo, and to Pfizer, The Wall Street Journal reported. Pfizer makes the quit-smoking drug Chantix.
Boston University professor Michael Siegel reported on his blog that the committee’s chairman, Dr. Jonathan Samet, “has received grant support from GlaxoSmithKline. In addition, the organization that he directed — the Institute for Global Tobacco Control — is funded by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer.”
Finally, committee member Dorothy Hatsukami has been paid by a small drugmaker to study its proposed nicotine vaccine.
A tobacco industry consultant brought to my attention the drugmaker conflicts on the committee, knowing that I have been calling out Big Tobacco since 2006 for its use of Big Government to kill competition and lock in market share. Now, the tobacco companies worry that Big Pharma — the nation’s biggest industry in terms of lobbying spending and a crucial ally of the Obama administration — will use their government clout to unfairly crush tobacco products in favor of Pharma-made nicotine products.
It’s an ugly game, this use of regulation to kill competitors and guarantee business. The Big Pharma vs. Big Tobacco scrum shows that Obama’s project of increasing government control is at odds with his talk of cleaning up government.
Timothy P. Carney is The Washington Examiner’s lobbying editor.