HHS’s New Antismoking Initiatives to be Unveiled

New antismoking initiatives – aimed at America’s number one preventable cause of death, disability, and unnecessary medical expenses – will be unveiled at the George Washington University, notes John Banzhaf, a law professor there

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PRLog (Press Release)Nov 08, 2010 – New antismoking initiatives – aimed at America’s number one preventable cause of death, disability, and unnecessary medical expenses – will be unveiled Wednesday morning by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, and Dr. Howard K. Koh, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health, at the George Washington University, notes John Banzhaf, a professor of public interest law at the university.

This will be the first major formal announcement of how the Food and Drug Administration plans to use the power it recently obtained to regulate all cigarettes and other tobacco products.  Prior to June, 2009, a Supreme Court decision prevented the FDA from regulating cigarettes, even though they contained the powerful and addictive drug nicotine.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was a Congressional reaction to that decision, and gave the FDA new authority in this area.  Since that time, the agency has been gathering the scientific information and going through the complex legal steps necessary for a crackdown on tobacco products.

Last year the FDA announced a ban on candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes in attempts to reduce the number of children who start to smoke and become addicted to nicotine in tobacco products.  The agency is now looking at menthol and flavored tobacco products other than cigarettes, at smokeless tobacco products such as Snus, and at cigarette-like products such as e-cigarettes, as well as conventional tobacco cigarettes, for more regulatory initiatives.

Although the act does not permit the FDA to ban cigarettes outright, regardless of their dangers, it does give the agency power to take other actions which could lead to further declines in cigarette consumption.  For example, it could restrict the amount of the addictive substance nicotine in tobacco products, either suddenly or in stages over a number of years.

The FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee is investigating whether menthol helps to cover up tobacco’s bitter taste – thereby making it easier for children to begin smoking.  Menthol is also the preference of 80% of Black smokers and 30% of Latino smokers, but is used by only a smaller minority of non-Latino White smokers.

Menthol was omitted from the general ban on using flavoring agents in cigarettes, apparently for political reasons.  Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), America’s first antismoking organization, had written letters to Members of Congress protesting this omission which many Black leaders, as well as former HHS Secretaries, had deemed racist.

As the HHS Secretaries said, the menthol exemption in the bills “caves to the financial interests of tobacco companies and discriminates against African Americans . . . It sends a message that African American youngsters are valued less than white youngsters.”

During debates about health care reform, both President Barack Obama and Sebelius stressed the need for personal responsibility.  Moreover, the resulting law incorporates a small amount of personal responsibility for smokers – authorizing a 50% surcharge on their health insurance premiums.

“Since smoking costs the American public almost $200 billion every year – most of which is paid by nonsmokers in the form of higher taxes for Medicare, Medicaid, etc., as well as ballooning health care premiums – it is only fair that personal responsibility be imposed on smokers by making them pay at least a small portion of the huge costs their smoking imposes on others,” says Banzhaf, Executive Director of ASH.

In the long run, bans on smoking in workplaces and public places, as well as financial incentives to quit like a smoker premium surcharge and higher taxes, may well do more to curb smoking than the FDA’s new initiatives, predicts Banzhaf.

PROFESSOR JOHN F. BANZHAF III
Professor of Public Interest Law at GWU,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
FELLOW, World Technology Network, and
Executive Director and Chief Counsel
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
America’s First Antismoking Organization
2013 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006, USA
(202) 659-4310 // (703) 527-8418
Internet: http://ash.org/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/AshOrg

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