Tobacco Act celebrates its first birthday with new regulations

Audrey Rabalais, a senior journalism major at Ohio University, is a summer editorial intern with CURE. The Food and Drug Administration for years has been the guiding hands for all things consumable and those that will affect the human body. However, until June 22, 2009, it did not include the evasive "Big Tobacco" industry which provides at least one nail in the coffin for 443,000 Americans every year. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act became effective last year, establishing provisions under the control of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products.The anniversary of the act's establishment promotes the "18 to buy" law from state to federal status. It also banishes the use of the misleading words "light" and "mild" from all tobacco products and advertisements; warning labels must now span at least 20 percent of the space on all advertisements for smokeless tobacco. Certainly, the FDA is properly flexing its newly found muscles after years of immobility in the tobacco sector.Many health organizations are overjoyed with the new authority, such as the American Lung Association which pushed for 20 years for FDA control over tobacco, according to Erika Seward, Director of National Advocacy for the ALA."It is very clear that the Center for Tobacco Products at the FDA hit the ground running," Seward said. "We have been very impressed with how they have essentially, not only implemented the number of provisions that they are required to in the law, but they are also setting up their shop."The ALA is now calling for the FDA to straighten out loopholes found by tobacco companies when packaging previously named "low" and "light" cigarettes. In many cases, the banned words have been replaced with associated color names. (http://www.lungusa.org/stop-smoking/tobacco-control-advocacy/federal/lights-are-out.html) Seward said the $1.01 federal tax on tobacco enacted last year resulted in thousands of smokers calling in to quit lines across the country, and she hopes the Tobacco Control Act provisions will have a similar effect. "We are certainly hopeful that the publicity around light and low-tar cigarettes and the 'lights out for light cigarettes' message that has been getting out will see a similar boost," she said.The ALA provides many cessation programs, including Freedom From Smoking, an online program for those beginning to kick the habit.And kicking the habit is favorable to kicking the bucket. According to the American Cancer Society's Guide to Quitting Smoking, a smoker reaps the benefits of quitting almost immediately. Heart rate and blood pressure drop after only 20 minutes; carbon monoxide levels in the lungs return to normal after 12 hours; up to nine months later, the lungs begin to clean themselves, and a year after quitting smoking, the excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker's. The health benefits seem quite convincing to me. So, maybe with help from a federal law, tobacco users can be persuaded to remove the deadly carcinogen from their lips, if not for them, then for others. Secondhand smoke causes over 150,000 lung infections in children younger than 18 months and around 46,000 deaths from heart disease annually. Cigarettes aren't worth dying for, and they're certainly not worth killing for.Although major strides in the control of tobacco products have occurred over the past few years, there are miles to go in the war against Big Tobacco. "This FDA law is one piece of an overall puzzle that is needed to solve the tobacco epidemic in this nation," Seward said.The American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network (http://twitter.com/ACSCAN) recently hosted a live Twitter chat in which all Twitter users were free to ask questions and comment on all things regarding the recent tobacco regulations. Among the issues brought up included retailer education on new tobacco provisions. @ACSCAN and @FDATobacco both mentioned that those persons selling tobacco should be sharp on the new regulations, or they could face even harsher penalties for violating laws than they would have in past years. @ACSCAN also mentioned that the new tobacco law gives the FDA authority to order a reduction of nicotine levels in tobacco products. Future provisions were also discussed. According to @ACSCAN, cigarette warning labels in future will have to cover 50 percent of the front and back of the pack and--here's my favorite part--include graphics such as poisoned lungs. The session also provided ways for citizens to get involved in stopping Big Tobacco. If you see any banned candy or fruit-flavored cigarettes, you can report the violation to tobacco2@fda.hhs.gov. If you would like to check out what was discussed, search Twitter for #tobaccoreg.Participating in and reading through the chat made me realize how important this law is to health organizations. These federal giants are reaching out to citizens sitting in their homes and, through the beauty of social media, chatting with them about what they both believe is important. If the FDA law is one piece of the puzzle, maybe the American public can be a myriad of small pieces, all working to solve the tobacco epidemic.