Tobacco Control Issues

New Tobacco Controls Have Public Health Impact


June 22 marks the anniversary of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Tobacco Control Act). 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.

Key Provisions

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 have already taken effect. For example:

  • Larger and stronger health warning labels must appear on smokeless tobacco advertisements and on smokeless tobacco products.
  • 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 had similar restrictions, the Tobacco Control Act made 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.

Public Health Impact

Despite declines in youth tobacco use over the past few decades, the United States is still faced with troubling statistics that the FDA regulations help address:

  • An estimated 20% of U.S. high school students smoke cigarettes.
  • Each day in the United States, approximately 3,450 young people between 12 and 17 years of age smoke their first cigarette.
  • An estimated 850 youth become daily cigarette smokers in the United States each day.

Some of the provisions that have gone into effect 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 have also had 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.

CDC Commitment

The FDA tobacco-related provisions 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 to Quit

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.

Also, provides immediate assistance in the form of:

  • An online step-by-step cessation guide
  • Local, state, and national telephone quitlines
  • Instant messaging service
  • Tools and publications that can be downloaded, printed, or ordered

More Information

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