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Ethics Group Challenges FDA Tobacco Panel Members

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Two panelists on a new federal advisory committee on tobacco product safety should be removed, according to a complaint by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.

The New York Times reported June 7 that that group argues that the work of Neal L. Benowitz and Jack E. Henningfield on behalf of drug companies that make smoking-cessation products represents a conflict of interest.

Both men are members of the scientific advisory committee at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Tobacco Products. The panel met this week to discuss the harmful components of tobacco products, ahead of a full committee meeting in July to advise the FDA on whether it should regulate or ban menthol cigarettes.

Altria Group, the owner of Phillip Morris, objected to the same panelists in March, but the FDA rejected that challenge on the grounds that tobacco-cessation drugs were not part of the Center for Tobacco Products' regulatory purview.

“I really don't see any conflict,” Benowitz said. “My involvement with pharmaceutical companies is aimed at reducing the risk of smoking, quitting smoking. The aim of the committee is also to reduce the adverse health consequences of tobacco use.”

“We just thought the financial conflicts were clear,” said Melanie Sloan, director of the watchdog group and former assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia. The FDA shouldn’t be exchanging Big Tobacco for Big Pharma, she said. 

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