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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 18, 2006

Gov calls on tobacco companies to halt covert efforts to increase cigarettes’ addictiveness; directs Illinois Department of Public Health to begin collecting and making public data on nicotine content
Massachusetts study finds tobacco companies increased nicotine content in cigarettes by an average of 10% from 1998 to 2004

SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today sent a letter to top tobacco company executives urging them to halt a practice uncovered by a recent Massachusetts Public Health Department study that shows the industry increased the amount of nicotine in cigarettes by an average of ten percent from 1998 to 2004, making them more addictive and dangerous to consumers. To help raise consumer awareness in Illinois about the tobacco industry’s efforts to hook more smokers, the Governor also directed the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to begin collecting information on nicotine levels from cigarette makers and reporting it annually to the public.

"Your industry has been engaged in an aggressive public relations campaign aimed at improving your image and conveying concern about the health impact of smoking, yet at the same time, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health found that manufacturers increased the amount of nicotine that could be inhaled from cigarettes by an average of 10 percent from 1998 to 2004. Not only does this news severely damage the credibility of an industry that’s been trying to rescue its reputation, it represents a major blow to smokers across the country who are trying to quit and the public health officials working tirelessly to help them," Gov. Blagojevich wrote in a letter to chief executives of Altria (formerly Philip Morris), Reynolds American, Inc., the Carolina Group (Lorillard Tobacco Company), and Liggett Tobacco Company.

"We will do what we can here in Illinois to make sure consumers have access to current information about nicotine content. Today I directed our Illinois Department of Public Health to collect data annually from manufacturers on nicotine content in cigarettes. I hope you will work with our public health officials to make public the nicotine content levels in all of your cigarette products annually," the Governor’s letter continues.

Under the Governor’s order, IDPH will contact cigarette manufacturers to collect data on the nicotine content in their products. IDPH will issue an annual report to lawmakers and the public. In addition to giving the public access to critical information regarding the addictiveness of cigarettes, the data collection will help IDPH as it develops and updates anti-smoking messages and programs.

The Governor also sent a letter today to Congressional leaders citing the Massachusetts report as persuasive evidence that lawmakers should pass pending legislation that gives the Food and Drug Administration regulatory oversight of the tobacco industry.

"The FDA is charged with protecting the nation’s health by regulating almost every product that we consume on a daily basis, including food, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, medical supplies, cosmetics and vaccines. Giving the FDA the ability to regulate tobacco makes sense, and is desperately needed to curb tobacco addiction and improve public health," said the Governor.

According to the recent study by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, smokers are inhaling significantly more nicotine from cigarettes than they did a few years ago. The study measured nicotine levels based on the way smokers used the cigarettes, and found the amount of nicotine that could be inhaled from cigarettes in 2004 was on average ten percent higher than in 1998. Nicotine is the chemical that makes cigarettes addictive.

Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in this nation, claiming 400,000 lives each year. On average, nearly 17,000 people in Illinois die each year as a result of cigarette smoking. Nationally, smoking is responsible for one of every five deaths. In fact, cigarette smoking kills more Americans than AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, murders, suicides, drugs and fires combined. Yet, smoking is the single most important preventable cause of illness and death in the United States.

Cigarette smoking costs the State $3.2 billion in smoking-attributable health care costs and $4.2 billion in costs due to lost productivity.

Smokers who want to quit may receive assistance from the State through free cessation classes and aids, such as patches, mints or gum. One-on-one counseling is also available through the Illinois Tobacco Quitline at 1-866-QUIT-YES. Gov. Blagojevich has provided funding to the IDPH for 94 local health departments to conduct tobacco control and prevention programming through the Illinois Tobacco-Free Communities (ITFC).

The ITFC program provides guidance and technical assistance to concentrate on policy-driven, evidence-based interventions to prevent the initiation of tobacco use among young people, to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke, to promote tobacco-use cessation among youth and adults and to identify and eliminate tobacco-related disparities among specific population groups.

For more information about programs to stop smoking, contact the Illinois Tobacco Quitline at

1-866-QUIT-YES or your local health department.

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Below is the text of the Governor's letter to top tobacco executives:

Dear Messrs. Camilleri, Orlowsky, Bernstein, and Ms. Ivey:

A new study looking into nicotine content in cigarettes from 1998 to 2004 indicates that your industry continues to mislead consumers by making tobacco products, even those branded as "light", more addictive and hazardous. I am writing to urge you to halt this deceptive practice and fully disclose to the public information about changes to your products that could put their health and ability to quit smoking in further jeopardy.

Your industry has been engaged in an aggressive public relations campaign aimed at improving your image and conveying concern about the health impact of smoking, yet at the same time, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health found that manufacturers increased the amount of nicotine that could be inhaled from cigarettes by an average of 10 percent from 1998 to 2004. Not only does this news severely damage the credibility of an industry that’s been trying to rescue its reputation, it represents a major blow to smokers across the country who are trying to quit and the public health officials working tirelessly to help them.

As your companies have stated publicly, cigarette smoking is addictive and can cause cancer and death. Your covert efforts to increase those risks, as demonstrated in the Massachusetts study, are despicable.

We will do what we can here in Illinois to make sure consumers have access to current information about nicotine content. Today I directed our Illinois Department of Public Health to collect data annually from manufacturers on nicotine content in cigarettes. I hope you will work with our public health officials to make public the nicotine content levels in all of your cigarette products annually.

In addition, I am joining members of Congress, including our own U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, in pushing for federal legislation that will ensure the tobacco industry is subjected to close regulation by the Food and Drug Administration.

You’ve made billions at the expense of smokers and the taxpayers who end up covering the healthcare costs of those who suffer from smoking-related illnesses. It’s time to stop deceiving the public and start fully disclosing the threat your products pose to those who use them.

Sincerely,

Rod Blagojevich

Governor

 

Below is the text of the Governor's letter to congressional leaders:

Dear Congressional Leaders:

In light of new findings showing that cigarette manufacturers have quietly been strengthening the addictiveness of their deadly product in recent years, I am writing today to ask you to take action on S. 666 (H.R. 1376), the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, before Congress recesses again. It’s clear from this new evidence as well as the industry’s long-time pattern of misleading consumers that now is the time for Congress to explicitly grant the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate tobacco products.

A report by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health indicates that from 1998 to 2004 cigarette manufacturers increased the levels of nicotine in cigarettes by ten percent, making tobacco addiction that much harder to beat. These findings are especially disturbing given that tobacco products are virtually unregulated. Tobacco manufacturers currently do not have to inform the public about how addictive their products are, nor do they disclose alterations that may make cigarettes even more addictive.

Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in this nation, claiming 400,000 lives each year. In Illinois alone, 17,000 people die on average every year due to tobacco-related illnesses, and cigarette smoking costs our state $3.2 billion in smoking-attributable health care costs and $4.2 billion in costs due to lost productivity.

The FDA is charged with protecting the nation’s health by regulating almost every product that we consume on a daily basis, including food, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, medical supplies, cosmetics and vaccines. Giving the FDA the ability to regulate tobacco makes sense, and is desperately needed to curb tobacco addiction and improve public health.

Specifically, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act would require changes in tobacco products to make them less harmful and less addictive. The bill would also require the tobacco industry to disclose the contents of tobacco products and tobacco industry-sponsored research about the health effects of their products. These steps, among others, would help reduce the devastating impact of tobacco.

The latest findings from Massachusetts show that we are fighting an uphill and unfair battle against deceptive tobacco companies. Tobacco addiction is tough to overcome, and our state and national efforts to help people quit smoking become even harder if the tobacco industry is quietly able to make cigarettes even more addictive. I urge you to make this public health issue a priority by passing legislation to grant the FDA authority to regulate tobacco during the next few weeks.

Sincerely,

Rod Blagojevich

Governor



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