It’s been ten years since the FDA was given the mandate from Congress to fully regulate the tobacco industry and tasked with the critical responsibility of protecting the health of our nation. And still, the FDA has not fulfilled its mission to reduce the deadly toll of tobacco use.
Six Years Later, Still Waiting on FDA Action on Warning Labels, Other Tobacco Products
Monday, June 22 marks six years since the president signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act into law, giving the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products for the first time. I started working at ACS CAN just one year later, filled with anticipation about the new possibilities for fighting the tobacco epidemic in this country. Yet, while we've made some progress, we're still waiting on some significant actions from the FDA that are taking far too much time. Congress wrote into law several specific actions the FDA needed to take quickly, including banning fruit- and candy-flavorings from cigarettes and prohibiting cigarette advertising at sporting events. One of these congressionally-mandated actions was to require larger, more effective color graphic warnings on 50 percent of the front and back of a pack of cigarettes. Graphic warning labels are proven to reduce smoking rates and keep kids from starting smoking in countries around the world. The current warning label on cigarette packs is more than 30 years old, older than cellphones and the internet, making it easily missed and less compelling. The FDA issued graphic warnings back in 2011. The industry immediately sued the FDA in order to delay implementation of the graphic warnings, and in a disappointing ruling, a federal court struck down those specific warnings in 2012. The FDA has indicated that it is going back to the drawing board to develop new, improved graphic warnings, but nearly three years later we are still waiting. In the meantime, the adult smoking rate has remained stagnant around 18 percent and 56 countries have implemented graphic warnings labels in the past six years. More delay by the FDA is just putting the U.S. farther and farther behind our potential to advance tobacco control. We also continue to wait for the FDA to finalize its proposal to regulate all tobacco products. Currently, the FDA only regulates cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco. That leaves a growing number of increasingly used products that the FDA does not regulate at all, including e-cigarettes, hookah and cigars. Congress gave the FDA the authority to regulate all tobacco products in the 2009 Tobacco Control Act; however, the FDA needed to deem this authority through the rule making process. The agency proposed this deeming regulation in April 2014, and has publicly stated it will finalize its proposal this month. Yet, we're more than halfway into the month without any action by FDA. Every day of delay is another day the industry can use any marketing tactics at its disposal to hook kids to its deadly, unregulated products. There's no denying the fact that the FDA had an enormous task on its hands creating an entire new center and beginning the regulatory process. However, six years later we have not made the progress regulating tobacco products that I hoped to see when I started at ACS CAN five years ago. Our kids cannot wait another day, never mind six more years, to have strong, meaningful regulations on all tobacco products.