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Maverick tobacco company CEO breaks ranks again

Liggett to print ingredients on cigarette packages

June 12, 1997
Web posted at: 10:26 p.m. EDT (2226 GMT)

From Correspondent Brian Cabell


BOSTON (CNN) -- He's a pariah within the tobacco industry, a CEO who publicly agrees that cigarettes are harmful and addictive. And Thursday in Boston, Bennett LeBow, chairman of The Liggett Group, added more fuel to the fire.

Holding a sample carton of L & M cigarettes, LeBow announced that within a few months, all cartons of cigarettes sold by his company will list all of the cigarettes' ingredients, including nicotine levels.

"We have disclosed all the contents in this carton," LeBow said.

In March, Liggett became the first cigarette-maker to reach an agreement with the attorneys general of the states suing the tobacco industry for smoking-related health costs.

Last month, the company became the first to begin putting warnings that smoking is addictive on packs of cigarettes.

By agreeing to list the ingredients of their cigarettes, Liggett is the first tobacco company to conform to a controversial new Massachusetts law requiring full disclosure of ingredients in each brand of cigarettes.

Dangerous isotope among the ingredients

And there are ingredients that might surprise some smokers.

Harshbarger "... Endrin, arsenic," says Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, ticking off some the ingredients, "... Polonium-210, which as I understand it is a radioactive substance which has a 20-year half-life."

"... Endrin, arsenic,... Polonium-210, which as I understand it is a radioactive substance which has a 20-year half-life."

-- Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger

Polonium-210 is an isotope of the element Polonium. It is listed in the "CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics" as "very dangerous to handle in even milligram or microgram amounts, and special equipment and strict control is necessary. Damage arises from the complete absorption of the energy of the alpha particle into tissue."

David Mulligan, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, says, "The public has a right to know, and that's what this is all about."

The tobacco companies are trying to block the disclosure law in federal court, and refuse to comment on the pending litigation. In the past, they have argued that disclosure would amount to turning over trade secrets. LeBow disagrees.

"I can't imagine why," he says. "My understanding of the regulation, they're not asking for quantities, specific quantities ... so why would there be any trade secrets involved?"

Other states may follow

"Only the tobacco companies maintain they don't have to tell consumers the truth about ingredients in their product and let consumers decide if they want to purchase that product or use that product," Harshbarger says.

The hope in Massachusetts is that the full disclosure of the ingredients, some of them toxic, might reduce the number of smokers.

A public health group is drawing up the regulations that will take effect later this year, if they survive the tobacco industry's legal challenge. Minnesota has passed a similar disclosure law, and other states may follow.

In fact, in the national talks going on now between the states and the tobacco industry, something very close to the Massachusetts law is included as part of a proposed nationwide settlement.

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