On First Anniversary of Tobacco Regulation Law, FDA Cracks Down on Tobacco Marketing

Statement from American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association and Legacy

WASHINGTON, DC (June 21, 2010)

A year ago, Congress and President Obama took a giant step to protect America's kids and health by giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products. Until this law was enacted, tobacco products had escaped regulation despite being the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

On June 22, 2010, we will celebrate the anniversary of this landmark law.  On that date, several key provisions will take effect, demonstrating how this law is finally putting public health ahead of tobacco industry profits.  These new provisions:

  • Crack down on tobacco marketing and sales to kids;
  • Ban misleading cigarette labels such as "light," "mild" and "low-tar" – these terms have been used to deceive the public and discourage smokers from quitting by falsely portraying some cigarette brands as safer than others;
  • Require larger, bolder health warnings on smokeless tobacco products and advertising (large, graphic warnings for cigarette packs and advertising are being developed and will take effect later).

Pursuant to the law, the FDA has already banned candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes that appeal to kids.  This has eliminated cigarettes in flavors such as toffee, mocha mint, lime, vanilla and strawberry that the tobacco companies introduced in recent years.

The FDA has also established a Center for Tobacco Products and appointed a highly qualified Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee.  The Committee has begun its investigation of the use of menthol in cigarettes, and it soon will examine the new dissolvable tobacco products that often are shaped, flavored and packaged like candy.  The FDA has also required industry disclosure of the contents of and research about tobacco products so the public can be better informed and the agency has the information to establish effective regulations that protect public health.

While the FDA has taken important steps to protect public health, tobacco companies have done the opposite.  The tobacco companies' actions during the past year made it clear that they have not changed and continue to oppose effective measures to reduce tobacco use.

Tobacco companies have sought to evade the ban on "light," "mild" and "low-tar" labels by introducing lighter-colored packaging for light brands and switching to terms such as "gold" and "silver" to replace "light" and "ultra-light."  These tactics seek to perpetuate the "light" and "low-tar" deception (images of color coding can be found here: http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/pressoffice/lightandlow/color_marketing.ppt).

Tobacco companies have also challenged the new marketing restrictions in court, but most provisions were upheld by a federal judge.  Some companies have sought to circumvent the ban on flavored cigarettes by introducing clove cigars that look and, according to news reports, taste like cigarettes.

Vigilant monitoring and strict enforcement by the FDA are vital to ensuring that the law succeeds in reducing tobacco use and the industry does not succeed in evading it. 

The FDA law is critical because tobacco kills more than 440,000 people each year in the United States and costs $96 billion annually in health care expenditures. This law will prevent kids from smoking, help smokers quit and save many lives.

Background on Provisions Taking Effect June 22:

Tough New Rules on Tobacco Marketing and Sales to Kids

On June 22, the FDA will begin enforcing new rules cracking down on tobacco marketing and sales to kids.  The tobacco companies continue to spend $12.8 billion a year – $35 million each day – to market their deadly and addictive products, often in ways that appeal to children. These new rules will:

  • Ban all tobacco-brand sponsorships of sports and entertainment events.
  • Ban virtually all free tobacco samples and giveaways of non-tobacco items, such as hats and T-shirts, with the purchase of tobacco.
  • Prohibit the sale of cigarettes in packs of less than 20. This will eliminate so-called "kiddie packs" that make cigarettes more affordable and appealing to kids.
  • Require stores to place cigarettes and other tobacco products behind the counter, out of reach of children.  The new rules restrict vending machines and self-service displays to adult-only facilities.
  • Establish a nationwide prohibition on tobacco sales to children under 18, require photo ID checks for sales to anyone appearing under 27 years of age and provide for tough federal enforcement and penalties against retailers who sell to minors.

The FDA is developing regulations that will restrict outdoor tobacco advertising near schools and playgrounds.  In addition, the FDA is appealing a court ruling that overturned a provision that restricts tobacco ads to black-and-white text only in publications with significant teen readership, at point-of-sale (except in adult-only facilities) and outdoors.

"Light," "Mild" and Low-tar" Banned

On June 22, the use of terms such as "light," "mild" or "low-tar" in marketing and selling cigarettes will be banned.  For decades, the tobacco industry has used these terms to deceive the public into believing that some brands of cigarettes are less harmful, and to discourage smokers from quitting. It has been one of the most deadly consumer frauds of all time.

More than half of daily American smokers – including nearly two thirds of women who smoke – say they smoke brands marketed as "light" or "ultra-light." Many smokers erroneously believe that using these products helps reduce the risks from smoking. This is false, and the tobacco industry has long known it is false.

The FDA must crack down on tobacco industry practices that try to get around the ban on "light" and "low-tar" and continue to mislead consumers. Under the new law, the FDA has the authority to ban "similar descriptors" and stop other actions by tobacco companies that explicitly or implicitly suggest that a particular brand is less harmful. It is critical that the FDA exercise its authority to protect consumers and also conduct a public education campaign to ensure that smokers understand that the only proven way to protect their health is to quit.

New Warning Labels

Beginning on June 22, all smokeless tobacco products must carry much larger health warnings. The warnings must cover 30 percent of principal package display panels and 20 percent of advertising.

Cigarette packs will soon be required to have large, graphic health warnings that cover the top half of the front and back of the pack.  These warnings will feature color photos and graphics depicting the harmful consequences of smoking, such as lung cancer, heart disease and impotence.  The new cigarette warnings must be in place by 2012 or sooner.

The new smokeless tobacco warnings are critical because these products are addictive and cause cancer and other serious diseases. Contrary to what some tobacco companies have implied, they are not safe.

As smoking rates have declined and restrictions on smoking have multiplied, tobacco companies have introduced new smokeless tobacco products and significantly increased marketing for them. Some of these new products look like candy, are flavored like candy, and have colorful packaging like candy.  And they are easily concealed in settings such as classrooms.

Government surveys have found that, while cigarette smoking has declined, smokeless tobacco use has increased by more than 33 percent among 10th and 12th graders in recent years.

For more information on the FDA law, go to http://www.lung.org/stop-smoking/tobacco-control-advocacy/federal/fda-authority-over-tobacco.html