Senator chastises Health Department for lagging behind

ST. PAUL (AP) — More than a year after a law passed requiring tobacco companies to report if their products contain certain toxic substances, they aren’t doing so. But a state senator says it’s not their fault.
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, sent a scathing letter Monday to state Health Commissioner Anne Berry, asking why the department hasn’t sent out a form to the cigarette manufacturers telling them how to make a report.
“It should take no more than one hour for someone in your department to design an appropriate form. I ask whether your failure to do so is the result of incompetence or a deliberate disregard for Minnesota law?” Marty wrote.
Health Department spokesman John Stieger said the agency is “really close” to sending out its instructions to tobacco companies.
The department struggled to find a way to have the companies explain how they arrive at their conclusions, Stieger said.
The law requires tobacco companies that sell their products in Minnesota to report every year to the commissioner whether their products contain “detectable levels” of ammonia or ammonia compounds, arsenic, cadmium, formaldehyde and lead. Public health scientists suspect or believe all to be present in cigarettes or released in smoke.
Gov. Arne Carlson reluctantly accepted the provision as part of another tobacco-regulation bill in May 1997, but he said the requirement set a dangerous precedent.
Tobacco-control advocates across the country said they believed that writing the reporting rules for cigarette makers is not a complicated task.
“This does not strike me as … tough, analytic chemistry. So my guess is, this is a lack of will rather than … lack of ability,” said Richard Daynard, a law professor at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston and chairman of the Tobacco Products Liability Project.
Marty, who inserted the provision into a bill regulating tobacco sales, expressed exasperation over the agency’s failure.
“Basically, they’re flagrantly violating the law,” Marty said of the agency.
Failure to follow the law could be punishable as a misdemeanor with a maximum jail sentence of 90 days and a $700 fine, he said.
At least one tobacco company, R.J. Reynolds, is willing to comply once it knows what the department wants, a company spokesman said.
“Our intention would be to comply with any statute that’s implemented,” said Reynolds spokesman John Singleton.
The Winston-Salem, N.C.-based cigarette maker had filed a lawsuit in June 1997 to try to block enforcement of the law but later withdrew the lawsuit voluntarily, Singleton said.
The tobacco companies have never had to publicly disclose the chemicals in their products.