New tobacco regulations regarding health warning labels, use of misleading descriptors (like “light,” “low,” and “mild”), and sales restrictions will help make tobacco products less accessible to youth and will help encourage smokers to quit.
June 22, 2010 marks the 1-year anniversary of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Tobacco Control Act). It also is the date that important tobacco regulations regarding youth access as well as sales and marketing restrictions take effect.
The Tobacco Control Act represents the first time that the federal government has been able to place public health restrictions on tobacco products and their advertising and marketing. In 1996, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) attempted to assert jurisdiction over tobacco; however, the Supreme Court ruled that authorization from Congress was needed first. In 2009, legislation to regulate the manufacturing, marketing, and sale of tobacco products was passed by both the House and Senate. The bill became law when President Obama signed the historic Tobacco Control Act on June 22, 2009.
The Tobacco Control Act grants FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products to protect public health and to reduce tobacco use by children and adolescents. FDA tobacco regulations are to be phased in over an extended period, and several key provisions become effective on June 22, 2010. For example:
Larger and stronger health warning labels must appear on smokeless tobacco advertisements and on smokeless tobacco products manufactured on or after June 22, 2010.
The tobacco industry is prohibited from manufacturing for sale or distribution any tobacco products for which the label, labeling, or advertising contains the descriptors “light,” “low,” or “mild” (or any similar descriptor).
Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco may not be sold to anyone younger than 18 years of age. (Although states have similar restrictions, the Tobacco Control Act makes this a federal law.)
Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco may not be sold through vending machines or self-service displays, except in facilities that prohibit entry to persons under the age of 18 years.
Retailers may not sell single cigarettes or packages containing fewer than 20 cigarettes, except in vending machines located in facilities that prohibit entry to persons under the age of 18.
Free samples of tobacco products are not permitted, with the exception of free samples of smokeless products in adult-only facilities in certain restricted situations.
Free branded product tie-ins (such as T-shirts) are not permitted.
Branded sponsorships of athletic or cultural events are prohibited.
Despite declines in youth tobacco use over the past few decades, the United States is still faced with troubling statistics that the FDA regulations will help address:
An estimated 20% of U.S. high school students smoke cigarettes.
Each day in the United States, approximately 3,900 young people between 12 and 17 years of age smoke their first cigarette.
An estimated 1,000 youth become daily cigarette smokers in the United States each day.
The provisions that go into effect on June 22 will restrict the sale, distribution, and promotion of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco to make them less accessible and less attractive to youth.
The FDA provisions prohibiting the use of terms like “light, “low,” and “mild” on cigarette labels and advertising should also have an important public health impact. Cigarettes labeled “light,” “low,” or “mild” have been shown to reduce motivation to quit smoking; many smokers may have switched to “light-,” “low-,” or “mild-” labeled brands instead of quitting. These terms have led some smokers to mistakenly believe that “light” cigarettes are less harmful than “regular” or “full-flavor” cigarettes.
In fact, no convincing evidence exists indicating that changes in cigarette design have resulted in an important decrease in the diseases caused by cigarettes. Each year, an estimated 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and another 8.6 million have a serious illness caused by smoking. Without the misleading labels, more smokers may be motivated to quit, and fewer smokers may be confused about the dangers of the tobacco products they use.
The June 22 FDA provisions will help CDC in its continued commitment to prevent youth from using tobacco and to encourage tobacco users to quit. In its efforts to provide leadership to tobacco control programs throughout the United States, CDC recommends a comprehensive, broad-based approach to reducing tobacco use (i.e., a combination of state- and community-based interventions, cessation services, countermarketing, tobacco-use policies, surveillance, and evaluation). Regulation of tobacco products is an important component of a comprehensive approach to tobacco control, not a substitute for broader tobacco control efforts.
For support in quitting, including free quit coaching, a free quit plan, free educational materials, and referrals to local resources, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669); TTY 1-800-332-8615.