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Landmark Tobacco Disclosure Law Upheld in Massachusetts

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A novel Massachusetts law that requires tobacco companies for the first time to disclose the additives in their cigarettes and smokeless tobacco brands survived its first legal challenge Friday, when a federal judge in Boston rejected industry contentions that the statute is preempted by federal law.

U.S. District Judge George O’Toole, ruling in the closely watched case, declared that there is no conflict between the state law requiring brand-by-brand disclosure of tobacco additives and the weaker disclosure provisions in the federal law mandating warning labels on cigarette packs.

The ruling was cheered by health and anti-smoking groups, who have long sought disclosure of tobacco ingredients. State Sen. Warren Tolman, sponsor of the measure, said the federal court ruling “upheld our right to pass laws that make the cigarette companies release the dirty little secrets they have been hiding.”

But David H. Remes, an attorney for tobacco giants Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and Brown & Williamson, said the industry will carry the fight to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

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The federal government “has exclusive authority” over disclosure of tobacco ingredients, Remes said in a prepared statement.

“Nor can the state legally require ingredient information--which is entitled to the same protection as the formula for Coca-Cola or Big Mac secret sauce--to be disclosed to the public, including the manufacturers’ competitors,” Remes said.

Before passage of the Massachusetts law last July, the tobacco companies for two decades had successfully resisted efforts to make them identify the additives in each brand sold.

Under the state law, scheduled to take effect July 1, each cigarette and smokeless tobacco manufacturer must give state health authorities a list of every “added constituent” in each brand, by descending order of weight or count. The law also mandates reporting of nicotine yields.

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Tobacco foes have long called on Congress and the states to require disclosure of additives, saying it is ludicrous to exempt producers of a hazardous product from right-to-know standards imposed on other manufacturers.

Although cigarettes appear to be nothing but tobacco rolled in paper, they also contain numerous chemicals, plant extracts and other additives that keep tobacco moist and control burn rate, flavor and aroma of the smoke. Health authorities have long maintained that certain of these additives, when chemically altered by combustion, may enhance the health risks of smoking.

More recently, tobacco foes have also charged that additives such as ammonia are used to enhance nicotine delivery, a charge tobacco companies have denied.

When Congress passed legislation in 1984 to require the current series of rotating warning labels on cigarette packs, it also required cigarette manufacturers to begin providing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with an annual listing of all ingredients they use.

But the list, which annually includes hundreds of constituents, does not say which ones are used by which manufacturers in which brands, or in what amounts.

Times wire services contributed to this report.


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