Final rules that take effect this month will usher in a new era of broad restrictions on the sale, distribution and promotion of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products to youth and adults.
The rules, effective June 22, are the result of a 2009 law that granted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate the sale or even to ban outright certain tobacco products.
On that date, the sale of cigarettes or smokeless tobacco to youth under age 18 will become a federal crime. Describing a cigarette as light or low tar on any brand – existing or new – will be prohibited. And athletic, musical, social and cultural events can no longer be sponsored by tobacco companies.
Certain other rules, such as a ban on all flavored cigarettes, other than menthol, took effect immediately or soon after President Barack Obama signed the law on June 22, 2009. Government officials say the restrictions aim to prevent a new generation of adults from getting hooked on tobacco, by severely limiting youth access and exposure to butts, chew and their ilk.
But while these and other requirements please many anti-tobacco advocates, the worry among some is that the tobacco industry will maneuver around the rules or create new products not covered by the regulations.
“The history of this industry is such that whenever there have been regulations passed – either at the state level or, in this case, at the federal level – to try and regulate them, they have found ways to get around it,” said Joel Spivak, with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Enforcement of the new rules will be the key, he said. The FDA said in a statement in March that manufacturers and retailers that don’t comply with the rules will be subject to “enforcement” action, but did not specify what that would be.
And some tobacco products with potential youth appeal aren’t covered by the ban, including flavored smokeless tobacco products sold under the Marlboro, Camel and Skoal brands, among others. Packaged in flat plastic containers similar to those containing candy or gun, the products offer bite-sized, flavored pellets that dissolve in the mouth, delivering small amounts of nicotine.
An April 19 study published in the journal Pediatrics pointed to several cases of unintentional child poisonings related to these products and cautioned that such incidents could become more common as more youths take to them.
“In light of the novelty and potential harm of these dissolvable nicotine products,” the study said, “federal and other public health authorities are advised to study these products to determine the appropriate regulatory approach, on the basis of their potential to cause poisonings and to create addiction among youths.”
Spivak agreed. “The general feeling in the public health community is … we’d like to see them [FDA officials] address this issue sooner rather than later,” he said, while acknowledging that the products are not yet as ubiquitous as cigarettes and other forms of tobacco.
More on the new rules can be found at FDA’s website, http://www.fda.gov/TobaccoProducts/ProtectingKidsfromTobacco, and at the Campaign’s website, http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/reports/fda/effective_dates.shtml.