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FDA to have greater tobacco and cigarette control

Starting Tuesday, June 22 the Food and Drug Administration will have far greater control over how tobacco and cigarettes are marketed, distributed and sold. The announcement on Thursday, March 18 was made by Kathleen Sebelius, the US Health and Human Services Secretary.

It is a decision which many have been waiting for in the anti-tobacco activist camp. Indeed since the Cigarette Companies managed to thwart the attempts of the FDA to restrict the tobacco industry in 1996, there has been considerable support generated for the legislation.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act as it is known was passed in June 2009 by the US Congress. It was sponsored by Henry Waxman, (Democrat, California) and will formally go into effect on June 22, 2010. It states its purpose as follows,

“To protect the public health by providing the Food and Drug Administration with certain authority to regulate tobacco products, to amend title 5, United States Code, to make certain modifications in the Thrift Savings Plan, the Civil Service Retirement System, and the Federal Employees’ Retirement System, and for other purposes.”

The passing of the legislation, which regulates the $89 billion tobacco industry with its strong lobby is indeed a momentous event. Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health dubbed the event as “truly a historic announcement in our country’s public health history”. So how will the new legislation affect the tobacco companies?

1. The FDA will ban tobacco companies from sponsoring sports or entertainment events. The name of major tobacco companies will no longer feature along with major entertainment or sporting events which receive large amounts of publicity.

2. Tobacco companies will be unable to give free cigarette samples away. There will be no giveaways of non-tobacco items when you buy tobacco as well. So there will be less incentive to buy the cigarettes, and you will not be able to try out a new brand for free.

3. Sale of “kiddie packs” or those with less than 20 cigarettes will be prohibited. This is said to be a major factor which makes cigarettes more affordable according to many public health experts. By eliminating these small sized packs it is hoped that the habit becomes more expensive and less appealing to teenagers.

4. The FDA will be also able to forbid the sales of tobacco products to children who are under 18 years of age. Over the counter sales will require photo identity cards. Tobacco product vending machines are to be placed in adult only facilities. Self service displays of cigarettes will need to move behind the counter in retail stores.

5. The legislation is to be enforced using federal help against violators. There is a provision for stringent punitive action against stores found violating the law. These measures range from warning letters to criminal penalties to those concerned.

How effective the legislation will be is yet to be seen. With R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Lorillard, (tobacco producers) already challenging the new law in the state of Kentucky. The appeal of the FDA is still pending, and it is going to be a long and bloody battle.

By Candy Lashkari, News-medical

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