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May 02, 2013

Understanding the Tobacco Control Act

A review of the law that helps protect the public against health problems caused by tobacco use.

Smoking is the cause of 1 in 5 deaths in the United States, and tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death worldwide. That’s why the U.S. has taken great efforts to help decrease tobacco use—encouraging smokers to quit and preventing non-smokers from ever taking up the habit.

When it comes to tobacco control and prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is our greatest asset. The FDA has authority over many aspects of tobacco products, such as sales, marketing and public education, which helps protect public health. With the addition of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act passed in 2009, experts are thrilled with the additional authority given to the FDA to further protect public health and combat the tobacco epidemic.

This law, more commonly known as the Tobacco Control Act, gave the FDA authority to regulate the manufacture, distribution and marketing of tobacco products to protect the public’s health. In other words, when the FDA considers whether to approve new tobacco products, they must decide whether it would cause more harm than good on a population level.  For example, if a new tobacco product would prevent or delay people from quitting smoking, the FDA could deny approval. Similarly, if a tobacco product would increase the use of tobacco products, the FDA also has authority to prevent that product from hitting the market.

A prime example of how this law might come into play is regarding the sales and marketing of light and low-tar cigarettes. When light cigarettes became available, they misled smokers to believe that they were smoking a safer cigarette, which in turn prevented many people from quitting. With the Tobacco Control Act, the FDA now has the authority to consider the impact of tobacco products on the U.S. population. This new authority will help prevent tobacco companies from selling and marketing products that might mislead Americans or counteract anti-smoking efforts that have long been in place.

Although many are optimistic about the Tobacco Control Act, we still have a long way to go with anti-smoking efforts. This new law only gives the FDA control over cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products and roll-your-own tobacco, and policymakers are trying to extend that authority over additional tobacco products like e-cigarettes and tobacco products marketed for therapeutic reasons. Also, experts point out that it’s important to consider smoking trends from a global perspective. Most deaths from tobacco products occur in low- and middle-income countries. Since the FDA only has authority over products sold in the U.S., additional efforts are needed to combat the smoking epidemic worldwide. However, the Tobacco Control Act is an important step that the U.S. government has taken to close gaps in anti-smoking laws and help protect the health of Americans.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is the Tobacco Control Act?
  • The Tobacco Control Act was passed in 2009 to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate the manufacture, distribution and marketing of tobacco products to protect the public’s health. In other words, when the FDA considers whether to approve new tobacco products, they must decide whether it would cause more harm than good on a population level. This new authority will help prevent tobacco companies from selling and marketing products that might mislead Americans or counteract anti-smoking efforts that have long been in place.

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