Food and Drug Commissioner David Kessler resumed his crusade against tobacco Wednesday by labeling smoking the nation’s latest childhood disease.
“Nicotine addiction begins when most tobacco users are teenagers, so let’s call this what it really is: a pediatric disease,” Kessler said in a speech Wednesday to Columbia University law students in New York.
The Food and Drug Administration caused an uproar last year when it began considering regulating nicotine as an addictive drug, a move that threatened to pull some tobacco products off the shelf. It spawned a series of heated congressional hearings where tobacco executives denied their products were addictive or harmful, despite internal industry documents that stated otherwise.
The issue died when the Republicans took control of Congress and ended the hearings.
But Kessler reopened the fight Wednesday, attacking tobacco companies for allegedly encouraging teen smoking through aggressive advertising campaigns.
He presented two 1990 memos in which R.J. Reynolds employees in Florida and Oklahoma targeted stores near high schools to be heavily stocked with T-shirts and other paraphernalia bearing its popular Joe Camel cartoon. The Oklahoma memo specifically recommends sites “across from, adjacent to (or) in the general vicinity of the high schools.”
R.J. Reynolds dismissed the memos, saying the Federal Trade Commission reviewed them last year before clearing the Camel campaign of any wrongdoing. The memo writers were disciplined and the high school plan was never enacted, said spokeswoman Maura Ellis.
Kessler told the law students that he continues to accumulate evidence that nicotine could fall under congressionally established FDA jurisdiction. A transcript of Kessler’s remarks was made available in Washington.