New law will place important restrictions on tobacco


  • Carrie Printz

On June 22, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. This historic piece of legislation grants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory power over the manufacture, sale, and marketing of tobacco products. This victory is a significant step toward reducing the considerable toll that tobacco takes on our country.

Passage of this legislation has been a major priority for the American Lung Association for more than a decade; we have worked for more than 20 years to give the federal government authority over manufactured tobacco products. Why do we view this as so important? Tobacco-related diseases are the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, resulting in 443,000 deaths each year. Tobacco also takes a tremendous toll on our healthcare system and economy—productivity losses due to tobacco use are estimated to be $97 billion annually, and tobacco related health care costs at $96 billion. These numbers have continued to grow as tobacco companies have enjoyed special protections not afforded to any other industry in the United States. President Obama significantly stunted Big Tobacco's unrestricted business environment when he signed this bill into law.

For the first time, tobacco companies will be required to disclose all of the ingredients in their products. At the same time, the FDA will be able to require the removal of harmful ingredients and be able to reduce nicotine levels. Tobacco companies also will be required to put larger and graphic warning labels on all cigarette packages that more clearly communicate the risks associated with tobacco use. Gone will be the days when tobacco companies added candy and fruit flavors to their cigarettes to hook children. In addition, the use of terms such as “light” and “low tar,” which mislead consumers into believing that they are smoking safer cigarettes, will be prohibited. Tobacco, which has been almost entirely unregulated, will now be under firm governmental oversight, like other consumable products.

The Lung Association believes the act will result in a reduction in the number of cases of lung cancer in the United States. Almost 160,000 Americans die each year from lung cancer, 80% to 90% of which can be directly attributed to tobacco use. Tragically, only 44% of people with lung cancer will live more than a year after diagnosis. Granting the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products will help reduce the incidence and prevalence of lung cancer by preventing young people from becoming addicted to tobacco and helping current smokers quit.

Even though passage of this legislation was an epic struggle, the Lung Association and our public health partners recognize that the real work is just beginning. The tobacco companies will fight the FDA at every turn and attempt to weaken the agency's work. The American Lung Association stands ready to push back and assist the agency in any way we can as it implements and enforces this law.

We have long viewed giving the federal government regulatory authority over tobacco products to be a crucial and missing piece of the puzzle in tobacco control. But it is still only 1 piece. The Lung Association recognizes that, even as the FDA begins to exercise its new authority over tobacco products, we must continue our efforts at state and local levels to pass comprehensive smoke-free air laws, to increase tobacco taxes, and to dramatically increase funding for, and access to, tobacco- use prevention and cessation programs. Only by continuing this fight on all fronts will we see a significant reduction in the burden caused by tobacco use.