A Philip Morris Cos. executive said the nation’s largest cigarette maker is willing to discuss some government regulation of the embattled tobacco industry.
Senior vice president Steven Parrish said the company still opposes efforts by the Food and Drug Administration to classify and regulate tobacco as a drug, an issue at the core of a pending U.S. Supreme Court case.
However, Parrish said he has met recently with U.S. lawmakers to discuss the company’s “willingness to open up a dialogue and look at the right regulatory approach.”
Parrish said the company would be willing to discuss regulating cigarettes in such areas as sales to young people, research on safer products and the disclosure of ingredients.
His comments appeared today in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post. Details of the company’s policy shift were expected to be announced Thursday.
Michael Pfeil, a spokesman for Philip Morris’s domestic tobacco division in New York, said Parrish was unavailable today to elaborate on his remarks to the newspapers. But he said the company feels “there is some level of acceptable regulation of cigarettes as cigarettes but not as medical devices.”
President Clinton said in Washington that he was “heartened” by the reports.
“If Philip Morris is ready to support the FDA provisions of the tobacco bill the industry and the congressional leadership killed just two years ago, that is an important step forward,” the president told reporters before leaving the White House for a political fund-raising trip to Florida.
“Every day 3,000 young people smoke for the first time and 1,000 others will die earlier as a result,” Clinton said. “We have a duty to everything we can to save and lengthen their lives by protecting our young people of the dangers of tobacco.”
FDA officials contacted Monday night by The Associated Press said they were unaware of Parrish’s statements and had no comment.
The statements are a departure from the industry’s stance against government oversight.
But tobacco companies have been shaken by courtroom battles and the multibillion-dollar settlement with states over money spent treating sick smokers. Philip Morris has acknowledged that smoking causes cancer and other deadly diseases and is trying to improve its public image with a $100 million campaign to publicize how it has helped disaster victims, the hungry and abused women.
Also pending is the Supreme Court decision on whether Congress gave the FDA authority to regulate the industry. A ruling is expected by the end of June.