Protecting Americans from tobacco’s damage: Margaret Hamburg


(Any opinions expressed are the author’s own)

By Margaret Hamburg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Three years ago, President Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act into law. Those of us present knew we were witnessing history. With the stroke of a pen and strong bipartisan support from Congress, the Food and Drug Administration was charged with protecting public health from tobacco use – the nation’s single most preventable cause of disease, disability and death. More than 1,200 people die each day in the United States because of cigarette use. That is one person every 71 seconds. Today, I am pleased to report that the law is working.

In passing the Tobacco Control Act, Congress recognized that the linchpin of any successful strategy to reduce adult tobacco use must be to prevent young people from ever starting. More than 80 percent of adult U.S. smokers begin smoking as teens. Each day more than 3,800 young people under age 18 smoke their first cigarette, and more than 1,000 become daily cigarette smokers. Reversing this trend requires aggressive action on two fronts: reducing the attractiveness of tobacco products to children and ending their access to them. That’s exactly what the FDA is doing.

During our first 12 months of regulating tobacco, the FDA pulled candy and certain other flavored cigarettes off the market; issued tough new regulations to halt sales of cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, and smokeless tobacco to young people; banned brand-name sponsorship of sporting events and concerts; and implemented requirements for new warning labels for smokeless tobacco products. The FDA also has begun funding state authorities to assure vigorous enforcement of these new actions to protect our children.

The FDA’s efforts haven’t just focused on young people. We’re working to make sure all Americans, young and old, understand the true dangers of tobacco use. That’s why the FDA is enforcing the prohibition on misleading labeling and advertising claims, and why, for the first time, tobacco companies are required to report the quantities of harmful or potentially harmful chemicals in the products they make.

The FDA also is requiring graphic health warnings on cigarette packages and ads. Although a lawsuit by tobacco companies has halted implementation of the warning requirements, FDA will continue to fight to keep them so the United States, like dozens of other countries around the globe, can use this effective way to communicate the dangers of smoking to consumers.

Turning back the tide of suffering and death caused by tobacco use won’t be easy.

Today, FDA researchers are beginning to unravel the mysteries of tobacco use and addiction, including the possibilities of reducing the dangers and addictiveness of tobacco products. FDA scientists also are exploring the full spectrum of health consequences of tobacco use and how best to communicate those dangers to the public. Working with other federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, we will meet those challenges.

Much has been done since that day three years ago when the Tobacco Control Act was signed into law by the president in the White House Rose Garden. To the FDA, these achievements represent a solid foundation to build on. I have never been more confident that, together, we can make tobacco-related death and disease part of America’s past, and not America’s future.

(Margaret Hamburg is the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. An experienced medical doctor, scientist, and public health executive, she has previously served as senior scientist at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, assistant secretary for policy and evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Dr. Hamburg graduated from Harvard Medical School and completed her residency in internal medicine at what is now New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.)

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