Details of new FDA controls over tobacco
A look at legislation President Barack Obama signed into law Monday that gives the Food and Drug Administration regulatory controls over tobacco products.
Q. What is the main objective of the legislation?
A. The bill for the first time gives the federal government, through a new office in the FDA, authority to regulate the content, marketing and sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products. The focus is on reducing health risks from tobacco and making cigarettes both less accessible and less inviting to young people.
Q. What steps will be taken to reduce youth smoking?
A. Outdoor advertising within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds is banned. It limits most cigarette ads to black-and-white text only. Cigarette vending machines are confined to adults-only establishments. Remaining tobacco-brand sponsorships of sports and entertainment events will be stopped. It bars cigarettes from containing candy additives or any other herb or spice flavors such as strawberry, cinnamon or grape that make cigarettes more attractive to young people. The goal is to reduce the 3,500 young people who every day smoke a cigarette for the first time. Of those, 1,000 will pick up a smoking habit.
Q. What are some of the other changes that smokers will see?
A. The new FDA office is required to come up with bigger warning labels that cover 50 percent of the front and rear of packages. The warnings will also become stronger in pointing out the health dangers of smoking. The bill bans the use of descriptions such as "light," "mild" or "low tar" that give smokers the impression that a brand is less risky to their health.
Q. What other powers does the bill give the FDA?
A. The FDA must give premarket approval to all new tobacco products such as new smokeless brands. The agency would also give prior approval of all label statements on tobacco products. Tobacco manufacturers must provide detailed lists of ingredients, and the FDA has the authority to require changes in current and future products, including the reduction or elimination of harmful ingredients. That includes reduction in nicotine yields. The FDA will collect fees from tobacco producers to pay for the new program.
Q. What powers does the FDA not have?
A. The FDA cannot ban nicotine from cigarettes. It cannot ban other tobacco products, including cigarettes, smokeless tobacco or cigars.
Q. What is the position of the tobacco industry?
A. Congress has been trying for more than a decade to give the FDA controls over tobacco content, but has been thwarted by the powerful tobacco lobby and lawmakers from tobacco states. The equation changed this time, with the nation's largest company, Philip Morris USA, coming out in support of tough but fair regulation. Others in the industry continued their opposition, arguing that FDA restrictions on new products will lock in Philip Morris's share of the market. Lawmakers voting against the bill said it would hurt tobacco farmers. They also said the FDA, with its mission of ensuring the safety of food, drugs and medical devices, was the wrong place to regulate a harmful product such as tobacco.
Q. What are some of the long-term goals?
A. Despite the anti-smoking movement dating back to the 1964 surgeon general's warning that smoking was linked to cancer, there are still more than 40 million smokers in the United States, about one in five. The many health and anti-smoking groups that actively supported the legislation stressed that tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the country. They say that firm controls over tobacco content and marketing, combined with other initiatives to discourage smoking, could significantly reduce the 400,000 people in this country who die every year from smoking-related diseases. It could also bring down the annual $100 billion in health care costs related to smoking, providing a boost to current efforts by Congress and the White House to make the health care system more efficient and less a drain on the federal budget.
Among the other initiatives, Congress earlier this year jacked up the federal tax on a pack of cigarettes by 62 cents to pay for expansion of a child health program.