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A cigarettemaker's admission

For Philip Morris, America's largest cigarettemaker, the admission was understated but blunt: Scientific and medical evidence linking cigarettes to specific diseases is valid.

The statement last week, quietly posted on the company's Web site, reverses years of corporate insistence to the contrary - and may have important ramifications for the future.

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In future lawsuits, opposing lawyers will be able to point to Philip Morris's own site, which agrees with medical findings that smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and other diseases. Moreover, the admission may prompt Congress to consider additional regulation, such as oversight by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or warning labels on cigarette packs that are more strongly worded than current ones.

"Imagine if any other company making any other product made this admission. It would call for an immediate prohibition by Congress," says Sen. Dick Durbin (D) of Illinois. "This cries out for regulation by the FDA."

However, public-health officials believe the new admission shows the company is confident it can manage Congress. "I am sure that they did not overlook that there will be legislation they might have to fight in Washington," says John Garrison, president of the American Lung Association. "They may have shot themselves in the foot, but they are sure they can manage the election process - probably in a smoke-filled room."

The company itself says it used to focus on what was not known about smoking, but now wants to focus on what is known about the habit, including that it is addictive. Does that mean that the company would agree to warn consumers of these dangers on the cigarette packs?

"If a government would require us to put on such a warning, we would not resist or debate the appropriateness of that measure," says David Davies, a vice president of Philip Morris International.

So far efforts by Senator Durbin to get tougher warning labels on cigarette packs have been stymied - Congress has yet to hold hearings on the subject.

Even with the latest shift, Durbin says, "I don't think anything will happen."

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(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society