Courts Back Tobacco Disclosure Law


A federal appeals court yesterday reinstated a state law that requires tobacco companies to disclose the ingredients in their products.

The ruling by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a decision by a federal judge who had said the law was unconstitutional because it would force companies to give away their trade secrets, the Associated Press reported.

"Very little is known about the health effects of tobacco additives that can make a harmful product even more harmful," Attorney General Tom Reilly said. For the first time, a public health department may study these additives and inform the public what risks these ingredients pose to smokers. This decision is a big public health victory."

The disclosure law was the first of its kind in the nation when it passed in 1996. But it has never been enforced in Massachusetts. It was put on hold after tobacco companies Philip Morris Companies Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co., and U.S. Tobacco Co. filed suit in 1997.

The law requires tobacco companies to submit lists and amounts of the substances added to cigarettes, snuff and chewing tobacco to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The department would keep the lists confidential unless it determined the ingredients posed a public health risk. Companies who refuse to comply would be prohibited from doing business in the state.

U.S. District Court Judge George A. O'Toole put permanent injunction on enforcement of the law in September 2000, saying the law would make it easy for competitors to duplicate popular brands. But the 1st Circuit said in its ruling Tuesday that the law "is a valid exercise of the police power" to protect public health, the report said.

"In short, disclosure under the Disclosure Act will put consumers in a better position to know if their brand contains harmful additives, and to assess the health risks involved," the court found in its 2-1 decision.

The tobacco companies said they were considering an appeal. "We're concerned this Massachusetts statute really puts us in a position requiring us to unfairly reveal competitively sensitive brand recipe information," Philip Morris spokesman Mike Pfeil told the Associated Press.

A federal disclosure law, passed in 1986, forces tobacco companies to disclose their ingredients to the U.S Department of Health and Human services. But the information is not provided on a brand-by-brand basis and is not made public. Texas and Minnesota also have disclosure laws, but the Texas law does not require public release, and the Minnesota law applies only to certain chemical compounds.
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