Newly Empowered FDA Strengthens Legislation to Limit Tobacco Marketing

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The US Food and Drug Administration has been empowered by a Supreme Court ruling to allow the agency to regulate tobacco products, signed into law last June by President Obama. With the ruling set to take effect June 22, 2010, the FDA is strengthening the rules across the nation to limit the marketing and sale of tobacco products to youth.

In many ways, some of the rulings are already in effect as part of the 2001 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement between the tobacco industry and 46 states. For example, every state in the US bans tobacco sales to minors, although enforcement provisions vary. The new ruling would provide consistent enforcement actions across the country and oversight by one central agency.

The agency has already banned the sale of clove and fruit-flavored cigarettes, which appeal to young smokers. Menthol cigarette sales are currently under review.
The ruling would also bar sponsorship of sporting or entertainment events by tobacco companies and restricts outdoor advertising within 1000 feet of a school or playground. The agency also proposes a ban on the use of tobacco branding on products such as t-shirts, hats, etc. that provide marketing through means other than advertising, including free samples given away at events.

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Measures will also be taken to make cigarettes less accessible to younger Americans. Vending machine placement will be limited to areas that are adult-only. Single cigarettes and packs that contain fewer than 20 cigarettes will be banned.

Other proposals are still pending due to disputes between the regulatory agency and the tobacco industry. The provision has been set forth to prohibit tobacco companies from using color advertising in store displays or on packages, such as the new pink and black Camel No.9 cigarettes many say target teen girls. A federal judge in Kentucky has recently found this action to be unconstitutional based on the First Amendment right of free speech.

In a separate piece of legislation, Thursday the House of Representatives signed a bill to require those who sell tobacco products over the Internet to collect state sales tax, will prohibit the distribution of cigarettes through the mail, and mandates that age and identification be checked at purchase and delivery. The Senate has also passed the measure.

“The historic rule we’re issuing today will help our kids to stay healthy,” Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary, said at a news conference. She says that preventing the first puff on a cigarette is the key to saving lives. 90% of all smokers begin smoking before the age of 18. According to a 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2.4 million kids ages 12 to 17 tried cigarettes for the first time. Approximately 450,000 Americans die prematurely each year due to smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke.

The FDA provisions for the limitations of tobacco marketing can be found at www.fda.gov/protectingkidsfromtobacco.

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