Cigar threat draws notice Surgeon general says he'd back any move to add warning labels

'Urgency about this issue'

Cigars just as lethal as cigarettes and need limits, Satcher says

May 27, 1998|By Alec Klein | Alec Klein,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher denounced cigars yesterday as "very dangerous," saying he would support any move by Congress to impose a warning label on the popular product and to craft broad regulations on all tobacco sales and advertising.

In his first public comments on the issue, Satcher said cigars can be just as lethal as cigarettes and that he is especially worried about the rise in smoking among children. He also said he was disturbed by the "glamorization of cigars" by the entertainment industry.

"Any movement in public health related to tobacco should be targeted to cigars as well as cigarettes because cigars contain the same toxins and the same carcinogens, sometimes in larger amounts than cigarettes," said Satcher in an interview with The Sun. "Cigars have the same environmental health effect, if not greater."

Until now, the debate on Capitol Hill has focused on how to punish and regulate cigarette manufacturers for their role in hiding for decades the dangers of tobacco. But lawmakers and regulators have begun to turn their attention to cigars, a tobacco product that has experienced a national renaissance in the1990s. Even teen-agers have begun to smoke cigars in startling numbers -- more than a quarter nationwide have tried a cigar -- according to a recent federal report.

"Our major concern is, No. 1, that legislation achieve the goal of significantly reducing smoking on the part of children and youth, and that includes regulating advertisements and regulating sales and if you ask me if the regulations should include cigars, yes," said Satcher, who was sworn into office in February, filling a position left vacant for more than three years.

As surgeon general, Satcher cannot unilaterally require regulations, including a warning label. But considered the nation's doctor, he wields great authority from a bully pulpit on public health issues. Through the Department of Health and Human Services, he said he was working with the White House and members of Congress to bring about tobacco legislation that could include cigars.

'Working together'

"We're all working together on this," he said.

Satcher declined to explain his strategy or timetable, but he said: "I think there is definitely an urgency about this issue."

The cigar industry continued to defend its product yesterday.

"Our position is that cigars already have a warning label," said Norman F. Sharp, president of the Cigar Association of America. "Under the guise of protecting youth, the real goal, of course, is to regulate and restrict consumption by adults."

A growing number of health advocates -- such as former #F Surgeon General C. Everett Koop -- have begun to call for cigar laws and regulations. Other leaders in the health community immediately backed Satcher yesterday.

Backing Satcher

"I agree with him -- there should be appropriate legislation," said Jesse L. Steinfeld, who served as surgeon general from 1969 to 1973, when his office issued a tobacco report including a chapter on the health hazards of cigars. "I think, to make things consistent, all tobacco products should have a warning on them."

Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco already are required to have strict federal warning labels on their packaging. Most cigar makers have voluntarily adopted a weak California warning label, which says that their product "contains/produces chemicals fTC known to the state of California to cause cancer."

But the industry is not required to carry a surgeon general warning -- the federal government's declaration that smoking causes cancer -- even though cigars contain higher concentrations of tar and nicotine than cigarettes.

"I would support warning people about the dangers of cigars," Satcher said. "We know that cigars cause cancer. We know they can cause heart disease. They can cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. I would be in favor of warning people about that. It's time to move forward."

'Big step'

In what Satcher described as a "big step," cigars came to the forefront in the health community when the National Cancer Institute issued a major federal report in April showing that cigars can be just as deadly as cigarettes.

The government found that cigar smoking can cause cancers of the mouth, esophagus, larynx and lung. The report also said that regular cigar smokers who inhale have an increased risk of coronary heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

"We're focusing on trying to get legislation that will protect young people from tobacco, period," Satcher said. "And in my mind, that includes cigarettes, cigars and spit tobacco."

Pub Date: 5/27/98

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