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New law gives FDA much more authority over tobacco industry

The Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act approved by the U.S. Congress and with support of President Obama is the first serious government regulation of the smoking industry since 1971, when nicotine product advertising was limited. In 1998, smoking was banned on airplane flights. The new smoking Act gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate the smoking industry more than any other previous legislation.

The new law will give the FDA authority to govern the chemicals used in tobacco products, and to restrict advertising and new product launches, including the following actions to:

  • Limit the amount of nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes
  • Ban most nicotine flavors (except menthol) to make cigarettes taste bad and limit enticement of first-time smokers
  • Eliminate the use of the words “light” and “low tar” on nicotine products
  • Require large health warnings on nicotine products and use of black and white text only instead of colorful ads and displays
  • Ban outdoor advertising within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds beginning in 2010
  • Deny approval for smokeless tobacco products unless the makers’ prove they won’t entice non-smokers or current smokers who want to quit
  • Impose a fee (perhaps $.06 per pack) on cigarette companies to fund the new FDA oversight activities, which will further increase the costs of smoking

It’s estimated that 20 percent of Americans smoke and 400,000 people die of a smoking related illness each year. The Congressional Budget Office expects the new legislation to reduce adult smoking by 2 percent and youth smoking by 11 percent during the next 10 years. Other state mandates that ban smoking in public places and higher tobacco product taxes are also expected to continue to help reduce smoking rates.

Smoking causes nicotine dependence by altering mood and behavior due to the boost of the feel good hormone dopamine that nicotine creates. But when people smoke, numerous chemicals are ingested and harm almost every organ of the body. Tobacco smoke contains more than 60 known cancer-causing chemicals and more than 4,800 other harmful substances. More than half the people who smoke will die because of it.

Complications from smoking include lung cancer and other lung diseases, other cancers (including throat, mouth, bladder, kidney), heart problems, infertility in men and women, male impotence and diabetes. People who are frequently around smokers are also at greater risks for lung cancer and heart disease from second-hand smoke.

Smokers have many options to help them quit smoking, including nicotine replacement therapy (which do not cause cancer) and non-nicotine medications that affect mood, as well as counseling and therapy.

Surprisingly, industry leader Altria Group, owner of Phillip Morris, supported the legislation granting FDA regulation of the tobacco industry. No other tobacco makers did. In The New York Times online, Duff Wilson reported Altria hopes the legislation will provide “predictability” to the industry and said it has had a strategy to support federal mandates that don’t ban cigarettes outright.

Altria’s competitors believe the legislation’s advertising restrictions will be an advantage for Altria Group and ultimately reduce their competitor’s market share. Competitors plan to appeal the law as an infringement on First Amendment protections of commercial speech.

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